Last week, I was given the opportunity to present one of Start-Up Chile’s SUP Academy sessions. In these weekly sessions, presenters discuss a topic of interest with the participating startups. Previous sessions included growth hacking, metrics, legal, …
Throughout my internship, I had been talking to a number of startups. They all agreed that they were getting a ton of information on how to structure the content of their pitch, yet none of them were ever really taught the principles of public speaking. As a startup, presenting to be remembered is crucial. When you are competing against 70 other startups in a pitch competition, you need to find a way to put yourself over the edge. So when I got the opportunity to do a SUP Acadamy, the subject was immediately clear to me.
Enchanting an audience is all about psychology. It is how you influence people subconsciously that determines whether or not they will give you their full attention. Just imagine: we have no problem binge-watching Netflix for 6 hours, but it is so darn difficult to stay concentrated when someone (a poor public speaker) is giving a presentation.
As a presenter, how do we solve that?
1) Anxiety management
The thing that holds us back the most from being a great speaker is ourselves. 85% of people are anxious about public speaking and it is consistently ranked as one of our top 5 fears. Nervous presenters make the crowd feel uncomfortable, and an uncomfortable crowd is not receptive to the speaker’s message. Anxiety usually starts a couple of minutes before you get on stage. Your heart starts beating faster, your hands are sweaty and you may even become short of breath.
- The first thing you should do is Accept and great the anxiety: anxiousness is a signal that you are about to do something amazing, something you haven’t done before and most probably something that will bring you further in life. In some way, you should feel happy that you are anxious.
- Secondly, become present oriented. Ever wondered why athletes listen to music right before a big game? It is so that they don’t worry about all the possible future scenarios in which something could go wrong. They are fully immersed in their music and aren’t focused on anything else. Other techniques to get your mind straight are doing physical exercise, meditation and one of my personal favourites: tongue twisters. Just try repeating: ‘She sells sea shells by the sea shell shore’ 50 times right before you step on stage.
- Lastly, reframe from a performance to a conversation. Musicians are performers, if they miss one note the whole song is ruined, it has to be perfect. Presentations are never perfect, so we shouldn’t want them to be. It is better to reframe the situation so that the presenter feels like he is having a conversation with the crowd. The easiest way to achieve this is to start off by asking questions to the crowd and consequently, using conversational language.
When we are presenting we want to appear 2 things: confident and likeable.
We want to display confidence because this shows our audience that we are knowledgeable about what we are saying and that we deserve their attention. There are 3 key components (the 3 P’s):
- Posture: your mom was right to nag about your posture when you were younger. Confident presenters stand up straight, chest out, never ever cross their arms and hold this position all while seeming perfectly relaxed.
- Position: Where you stand on stage dictates your confidence. Don’t hide in the back, get up to the front of the stage and confront people.
- Pupils: Keep your eyes on the prize. You are not presenting to the floor, your slides or to that one individual who makes you feel secure. You are presenting to the entire crowd so acknowledge that and give them the attention that they deserve, otherwise they will never provide you with theirs.
- The second thing we want to appear is likeable. We want the audience to feel connected to us like a friend. Once the speaker is categorized as a friend, people will automatically create a narrative in their minds that supports the message that he/she is trying to get across. The keys to appearing likeable are:
- Smiling: The universal language. It immediately shows anyone that you are not a threat to them.
- Empty hands: The key here is being unarmed. If you have the chance, always present with empty hands to subconsciously make your audience feel safe.
- Open arms: This exposes the belly, a very vulnerable part of the body and consequently, shows vulnerability to the audience.
- Eye contact: It creates a personal relationship. Try making eye contact with a variety of people throughout your presentation.
First impressions matter: It is especially important to appear likeable within the first 7 seconds that you stepped on stage. The human brain is wired to either classify you as a friend or enemy within that timeframe.
3) Vocal power
Our voice is our biggest weapon when speaking publicly, unfortunately, many of us shoot ourselves with it. Using your voice the right way requires rigorous training. Some key pointers include:
- Gravitas: You are the voice of authority when speaking publicly, your voice must reflect this. Gravitas is that tone of voice that implies that you are serious, without being intimidating. It is the default tone that you want to maintain when speaking publicly. It comes from the lower abdomen and can be practiced through voice exercises.
- Intonation: The rise and fall of the voice is especially important when emphasizing. A trick you can use to get this right is, when making the transcript for your presentation, to mark the words you want to emphasize in bold.
- Speed: The speed with which you pronounce words influences your message. If you wanted to make a point, for example, you could slow it down, build the tension, make a revelation and conclude with your point.
Intonation and speed vary according to the content of your presentation.
A wise man once told me: “you should treat every word like it costs you $3 each”. You want to make sure that everything you say fulfills a purpose and adds value to your message.
“you should treat every word like it costs you $3 each”
When it comes to choosing between synonyms, you don’t want to say the easiest thing, nor the hardest. You want to use fancy words that everybody understands.
5) Personal story
Sharing a personal story is a great way to break the ice and create a personal relationship with your audience. There is a structure you can follow for maximum impact:
- Tell an anecdote. This could be something embarrassing to get the crowd to laugh and simultaneously feel related to you.
- Turn it into something intellectual to provide value.
- Draw a conclusion and set up an argument.
- Inspire the audience to practice what you preach.
6) Engage with your audience
As mentioned earlier, you want to feel as if you are in a conversation with your audience. Engaging with your audience is a great way to achieve this and will incentivise your crowd to keep paying attention to you.
The key to engaging with your audience is to make it fun. Some specific pointers are:
- Use humor: crack a joke, get the crowd laughing. Life doesn’t always have to be serious.
- Surprise people: get them out of their comfort zones (aka their chairs) and involve them. During my presentation, we had the crowd doing tongue twisters and voice exercises. Youtube video: https://youtu.be/JUiZGknYiV4
- Ask easy questions: when asking a question you should be confident that about 75% of your audience should raise their hand, if you are lucky, 25% actually will. The crowd is lazy, make it easy for them.
- Call people by their names: ask for peoples’ names and use them throughout the rest of the presentation.
As a final note, I would like to emphasize that none of the above really matters without rigorous preparation. You should know the content of your presentation by heart before you step on stage. Beware that this does not mean that you should memorize the entire thing and just rattle it off, because the probability that you will black out due to stress is substantial. I do, however, recommend to memorize some key words as well as some connection words that will allow you to transition between chapters smoothly.
I sincerely hope that this was helpful to you. If you have any questions concerning public speaking or would just like to get in touch, send me an inmail or email:email@example.com