Good morning, y'all! It's Tuesday, March 12, which means it's time for another #TuesdayTalks! This week, we're going to dive into the art of presenting, which is quite literally in my wheelhouse. You may know that I've been fortunate to speak at length about public speaking and presentation skills, and today, I'd like to continue sharing my insights on the matter. As always, please feel free to participate, comment, and share this article. Let's get to it!
The Power of Your Words
Picture it, you've just wrapped up a lengthy presentation and you're excitedly talking with the audience about its key takeaways. You've covered all the major points – your slides did their job – and the listeners are now processing everything that you said. It's a magical moment when your words truly do seem to jump off the page and into the minds of those listening.
Unfortunately, this is probably not how most people experience a presentation. It's a common theme that the speaker did not live up to his or her promises, or the presentation was poorly organized (which leads to information overload and confusion). What went wrong?
The answer is simple. Your words weren't good enough to begin with. Even if you have a fantastic presentation and you hit all the right notes, the listeners will still walk away unimpressed because your words didn't match up to what they expected to hear.
Most people think that to properly present information, they must read from a script. While there's some truth to this, a good speaker can still engage an audience through the use of language. To fix this, you need to become more strategic with your choice of words – as in, not just any words will suffice – and ensure that every aspect of your presentation makes sense in the context of your audience. In other words, you can't just throw in a few quotes here and there to spice up your talk; you need to put them in your own words and connect them to the topics you're discussing.
Making Your Words Count
The reason I mention words not matching up to expectations is that one of the most common issues that I see is that speakers don't always know how to use proper English and there are multiple errors in spelling and grammar. When I point these out during the feedback session, the speaker usually has a hard time grasping what I'm trying to get at. This is because they're so used to reading from a prepared text that they forget to adapt their language to match the pace and style of their presentation.
If you're not used to speaking in public, the chance is high that you'll trip up and say the wrong thing at least once. This is why we practice – so that these kinds of moments become less common. In fact, I see a lot of potential speakers get nervous and stumble over their words because they're not used to being on stage and being the center of attention. To help them get over these anxieties, I tell them that it's perfectly normal to feel this way. You're not supposed to be perfect, especially if you're new to this. In fact, being nervous is a good thing because it means that you're paying attention and engaged with what you're saying. So even if you make a mistake, you'll have something to say about it. This will help you polish your presentation and get a better grasp of your own words.
How Do You Say It?
Let's talk about the most common error I see speakers make, which is mispronouncing words. Every single one of them does this, but it's especially prominent among those who are new to speaking in public. They'll say something like "pub lic" instead of "publicly," or "rec ord" instead of "record."
These are all understandable errors and some of them are even pretty funny. However, the more serious issue is that these speakers don't know the correct pronunciation of the words that they're using. So even when they mean no disrespect, their listeners will certainly perceive it as such. As I mentioned before, even if your presentation is perfect, if your language is off, it won't matter. Your listeners will still walk away unimpressed.
Let's take a closer look at how we say goodbye and how to end a sentence effectively. To begin with, when we want to say goodbye to someone, we normally just say goodbye. There's no need to overdo it with all the niceties. However, there's one sentence in particular that you should avoid, which is the dreaded "um." If you, as a speaker, use this word frequently, you'll certainly lose credibility with your audience. You don't want to do this. Even if you're not sure about the correct wording, try to refrain from using "ums" as they are often used in conversations, which are not suitable for presentations.
Keeping Your Audience Engaged
When you're given the opportunity to speak to an audience, the last thing you want to do is bore them. This could happen if you use the wrong words or phrases, or if you ramble on without any form of moderation. To keep your audience engaged, you need to take a step back and ask yourself, “Is what I'm saying making sense in the context of this audience?” If the answer is yes, then great! You're on the right track. However, if the answer is no, then you may want to rework your presentation before the next scheduled speech.
Sometimes the problem is that the speaker is not aware of how his or her language is perceived by the audience. If you use the wrong words or phrases, your listeners will certainly feel frustrated or confused, especially if you use jargon or slang. For example, if you use the term “hodge podge,” which is a derogatory slang for those who are overweight, it may sound funny to some people but it could very well be offensive to others.
In the same way, if you use the word “retin-a” when referencing a type of medication, it may sound like you're talking about some sort of fancy makeup product but, for some people, it may signify that they're being treated for diabetes. So even if your intention is good, your choice of words may not match the context of your audience, which could cause problems. Take your time, be deliberate, and choose your words wisely.
How Do You Want Your Audience To React?
This one may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people forget about keeping the audience interested. When you're speaking to an audience, you are, in a sense, acting as a modern-day orator. As an orator, your primary objective is to persuade your audience to see things your way. To do this, you need to make sure that they remain interested throughout your speech. One of the primary ways of doing this is by using dramatic pauses and varying the tone of your voice. Let's say you're arguing for an increased surveillance state. You might want to shout at the top of your lungs to draw more attention to yourself. If you want your listeners to be worried about the fate of their privacy and how it relates to their safety, you could raise your voice and use dramatic pauses to convey this sense of urgency.
If, on the other hand, you're trying to convince your audience to support a boycott of sorts, you might want to speak in a soft, yet compelling voice. Doing this can make all the difference in impressing your listeners and keeping them engaged.
These are just a few examples of the many different ways in which your choice of words can affect your speech. To create the perfect presentation, you need to take all of this into consideration and choose your words with precision. Even then, you may find that your presentation still doesn't sound quite right, in which case, you may want to rework it again until you get the perfect sound. This is why practicing and, for the love of words, speaking with professionals is such a good idea. With their help, you'll find the perfect way to express yourself and leave your audience wondering how you did that.