“Start with a joke!”
This was the advice I most commonly received from friends when they found out I had an upcoming public speaking gig. After presenting a couple times, I soon realized this type of advice, though well-intentioned, was much too simplistic. There is no such thing as a quick-fix when it comes to capturing and maintaining an audience’s attention. But by being aware of some of the qualities of a good presenter, over time it is possible to refine your skills as a professional speaker. Whether you’re speaking in front of your department or at a conference, here are some suggestions to help you build your stage presence.
- Remain clear, engaging, and on-topic – Audiences appreciate a presenter who is purposeful and diligent in addressing the topic in an easy-to-understand and intriguing manner.
- Encourage audience discussion/participation – It can be difficult listening attentively for long periods of time. Consider using effective questioning techniques to encourage audience participation.
- Build good rapport with the audience – Throughout your presentation, scan the audience. Are people smiling and nodding their heads or struggling to keep their eyes open? By consistently keeping a pulse of how engaged the audience is, you can vary your vocal presentation on the fly to maintain their attention.
- Maintain appropriate professional distance – While a speaker should be charismatic and relatable, it’s important to set certain boundaries.
- Professional appearance – By making decisions within your realm of influence about what you wear, you can affect how the world views you. In summary: dress professionally.
- Vocal presentation:
- Volume – project your voice so the entire audience will be able to easily hear.
- Enunciation – make sure as the day progresses that you don’t get a lazy tongue.
- Speed – are there any audience members who don’t have English as a first language? If yes, adjust the speed of your talk accordingly.
- Vocal variance – Adjust your vocal tone and energy throughout the day during appropriate points in the presentation to keep it from becoming monotone.
- Speech pattern:
- Vocal tics – Avoid using crutch words, such as “um,” “uh,” “er,” “like,” “so,” “basically,” and “you know.”
- Appropriate word choice – keep in mind the demographic of your audience: nationality, age, race, gender, religion, etc. of your audience and adjust your choice of words appropriately.
- Physical presentation:
- Physical ticks – Avoid any habits, such as jingling coins in your pocket or clicking a pen while talking, which could prove distracting to an audience.
- Stature – Be aware of your posture and movements throughout the presentation so that they are congruent with your words – without distracting from your speech.
Many people have an overly simplified view of what is involved in good public speaking. It can, therefore, be quite daunting once you learn of all these different guidelines that go into a well-delivered speaking performance. But by having awareness of these, and through mindfully practicing, over time it is possible to vastly improve your stage presence and presentation.
Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.