Public Speaking 101: How to prepare for your next big speech or presentation

Public Speaking 101: How to prepare for your next big speech or presentation

Ron is an operations team lead at a regional manufacturing facility that produces small machine parts for large manufacturers. In his role Ron is responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of his section of the manufacturing plant and that his employees follow the safety guidelines and lean operations practices laid out by the company’s management.  Recently, the operations team has been looking into implementing bagging machines into certain sections of their production line. They believe that these machines will increase output and reduce labor costs substantially. Ron’s been tasked with exploring this option in further detail and presenting his findings to the executive team.

Although Ron is excited about the opportunity, he’s had a difficult time in the past giving presentations. What can Ron do to prepare himself to convey a confident and comprehensive argument in the next executive meeting? People site public speaking as one of their most common fears. In fact, in a survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health 74% of people said they were deathly afraid of public speaking! In this article we’ll go over some techniques you can use to get over your fear of public speaking and prepare a comprehensive and effective presentation.

Embrace your fear

Tell me if you’ve ever had this thought: “You’re in a room standing up in front of an audience and you don’t know what to say. You’re frozen by fear and you can’t muster up the courage to say a word”. I know I’ve replayed this exact scenario in my mind many times in the past. Understanding where your fear comes from will help you better control it. Most often, your fear stems from not knowing what will happen when you’re in front of an audience. This uncertainty results in your body producing stress hormones which causes your feelings of fear and anxiety.

It’s important to remember that the audience listening to your presentation does not have malicious intent. They want to see you succeed and no one is sitting there hoping your presentation will be bad or boring. Set aside some time a few days before your presentation to reassure yourself of this fact. Reassuring yourself will help put your nerves at ease and set you up to deliver an effective presentation.

Research your topic

Understanding your topic and having solid data to back up your argument is crucial to delivering a persuasive argument. With respect to Ron’s situation, he could start doing research into the pro’s and con’s of the bagging machines. During his research he may uncover the cost of each machine ($85,000 plus $5,000 maintenance), what other companies have implemented the machines, what some of their challenges were, what the productivity increase was etc. These metrics will help Ron understand the full scope of the situation and put him in a better position to craft a compelling argument.

During this phase of your preparation, take as many notes as possible. You want to make sure you write down as much information as you can about your topic. Don’t worry; you can filter through the information later when you develop your presentation.

Developing your presentation

Now that you’ve done the research and gathered the necessary information it’s time to develop your presentation. Whether or not you use power point it’s important to structure your speech into a cohesive story. For thousands of years, people have been using stories to convey messages and meanings to one another. Our brains are programmed to respond to stories and research even shows that we remember stories much better than statistics.  Ron could use this concept of story creation to explain how the machines would be implemented. He could start the presentation by explaining how the machines would be sourced and progress through the entire implementation process. This would help the executive team conceptualize the implementation process and his presentation will likely positively impact their final decision.

It’s important to note that when using power point presentations you should limit the number of words on your slides. Using too many words draws your audience’s attention away from you and puts it on the slides. Use only a few words on each slide, if any, and be sure to use pictures to convey your point. A picture is worth a thousand words and it’s especially true in PowerPoint presentations.

Practice makes perfect

As one of the greatest coaches of all-time, John Wooden was known for teaching his players valuable life lessons. One such lesson was how preparation was the key to success. Coach Wooden would often say “Those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail”. Not only does this teaching apply to players on the basketball court it’s especially true for individuals who want to deliver an effective presentation.  I know this may be hard for some of you to hear but your speech is probably going to suck the first few times you practice it.

In order for you to refine it and develop it into something special, you need to practice what you’re going to say over and over again. Stand in front of a mirror and go over your speech. Not only will this make you more comfortable giving your presentation but it may also help you identify and correct some of the odd body language you may be using. In the next section we’ll be putting the finishing touches on your speech so that you can go out and rock your next presentation!

Get feedback

You currently have a rough diamond of a presentation which we’ll now refine and shape into a glistening jewel. Practicing your speech in front of others will afford you the opportunity to see how your presentation comes across to an audience. Many times, you’ll gain valuable insight about your presentation. For example, one of my biggest issues when giving a presentation is my excessive pacing. I often find myself walking back and forth at a speedy pace as I deliver my speeches. One time when I was practicing my Toastmaster’s discussion in front of my girlfriend she pointed out this fact.

I took her advice and limited my pacing throughout my next presentation. This small adjustment in the delivery of my speech made it much more effective. Once you’ve practiced a few times by yourself, ask a loved one and/or a friend to listen to you as you deliver your speech. I’m sure you’ll be surprised with some of the insights they’ll be able to provide.

Bringing it all together

After a few days of worrying about what he was going to say in the presentation, Ron decided to take action. He began researching the pros and cons of the bagging machines and wrote down all his thoughts on paper. After his research session, he began to carefully craft his slides making sure to only use a few words on each slide and incorporating pictures wherever possible. Once complete, he asked his mom and a friend to review his slides and provide feedback. He then took the feedback, made some adjustments to his slides and began organizing what he was going to say in the executive meeting. He practiced his speech by going through each slide and standing in front of a mirror to evaluate his body language.

After he ran through the speech a few times he reached out to a friend asked him to provide feedback on his presentation. His friend gladly agreed to listen to his speech and provide feedback. On the day of his speech, Ron was a little nervous but he kept reassuring himself that he would be fine and that he had properly prepared for his presentation. When it was Ron’s turn to speak in the executive meeting, he gave a compelling argument as to why the bagging machines would be beneficial to the company’s bottom line.  This led the executives making the decision to move forward with the machines. Ron not only feels great about being able to present a compelling argument but his bosses and peers have taken note of his public speaking ability as well.

Public speaking does not have to be negative experience. The ability to convey a message to a large group of people and rally them around your idea is one of the most important skills you can have. Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any tips or tricks that you feel would be useful to the audience? I’d love to hear from you!

P.S. My book recommendation for this article is “Talk like Ted” by Carmine Gallo. In this book, the author goes over 9 public speaking techniques that will help you convey your point and compel your audience to action. This is one of my favorite books on public speaking and I’ve utilized some of these techniques in my own presentations. I’ve provided the link for the book below:

Check out “Talk like Ted” by Carmine Gallo