The National Social Anxiety Center states, “The fear of public speaking is the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders, or heights”. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 73% of the population is affected by this anxiety.
The underlying fear is that others will judge you or evaluate you negatively. This is not new news — but we are in a new communication landscape. Speaking in public is not limited to a stage or even a conference room. The platforms for delivery of presentations have expanded, especially recently with the shift to remote working and the often-used audio-visual conferencing and presenting tools.
Public Speaking to Give Amazing Talks
In a world of webinars, online meetings, YouTube, Clubhouse and podcasts, is public speaking still a trigger for inducing people’s anxiety? If so, how can we use some of the fundamental elements of presenting well and leveraging the new platforms’ mechanics to deliver more effective communication?
Let’s break it down into two areas. First, let’s review some of the general tips for effective public speaking. Second, let’s look at how to apply and tweak these for new distribution channels and some of the particulars of particular platforms.
Effective Public Speaking
Plan before you present
There are some that may claim they can “wing it” or are “good on their feet,” etc. However, for most of us, mere mortals and most master professional speakers, having a clear plan for your presentation is necessary. Planning means understanding what you are trying to communicate and how you intend to deliver it. As you will see from another tip below, using a three-act structure with a beginning, middle and end is a good best practice to keep yourself on track.
Practice makes perfect
Connected but distinct from planning is practising. The more you practice, the better your presentation will be. I’d suggest rehearsing out loud and even recording yourself. While it may be hard to watch back, you will hopefully see ways to improve your delivery — time yourself to see if you need to cut down or add to the presentation. If you can, present it to someone else, a friend or family member. Ask for their constructive feedback on what works and what doesn’t. The more you practice, not only will the presentation improve, but you’ll feel more confident and less anxious the better you know the material.
Know now your audience
Remember the 11th Commandment — Know The Audience. What do they care about? What matters to them? By understanding what resonates with your audience, you can craft content that will connect with them. A message might seem powerful to one group and may fall flat to another. Ensure what you are presenting will be welcomed by those receiving it.
Tell a story
Human beings are hardwired to want and engage with stories. It dates back to the early Chauvet Cave drawings and persists today. Consider how our brains behave. When your audience hears a story, unlike simply listening to factual information, their brains light up, and the parts of their brain that light up are those they would use if they were experiencing the action of the story. Find stories to convey the message you want to share.
K.I.S.S. — Keep It Super Simple
While the original acronym may have stated it slightly differently, the point is the same. Avoid complexity, or you risk losing your audience. Avoid industry jargon or flowery prose (unless you present your latest poem). A simple and easy-to-digest message will have great potential to be understood and remembered.
Use Powerful Visuals
While this would certainly be a challenge for audio-only platforms, if you have the opportunity to share images or videos during your presentation, it will boost the delivery. We are visual creatures, with 65% of the general population being visual learners, meaning that for people to retain a message, they need to see it. Also, visual communication trumps both written and verbal due to its speed. Our brains process visual content 60,000 times faster than text. This is why the trend toward video and corporate animation is so high.
Public Speaking Online
All of the above tips apply when you are presenting online. Whether recording a YouTube video or delivering a message via a webinar platform, these general tips will keep you in good stead. That being said, public speaking online presents some unique challenges. The below tips will help you be an online public speaker pro.
Generally, when presenting in person on a stage, the venue or organiser is responsible for the stage, lighting, and any audio-visual needs. Public speaking online may require you to turn your office or home into a mini-studio. It is important to have the right equipment to ensure you give off a professional impression. Investing in proper lighting and audio will elevate you from amateur to authority. If using a webinar platform, perhaps invest in creating a branded background. If you are going to go live, make sure everything is working well and your internet connection is strong. Set yourself up for success by having the tools you need.
Leverage Your Voice
Your voice can be a powerful tool if you harness it. Your voice can be your perspective on the given topic. Then your physical voice can heighten your message to impact your audience. Attributes of your voice – pace, volume, tone, pitch and timbre – can all influence how people perceive you. So be mindful of your voice and consider using an online app like Orai or listen to a few episodes of my friend and voice artist, John Duffin’s podcast, Your Message Received.
Make It Interactive
One of the benefits of being on a webinar platform rather than on stage is the ease with which you can interact with your audience. Encourage the use of the chat tool by asking questions to which participants can reply in the chat. Have someone you trust on the platform monitor the chat if you can. Polls can be effective but require some prep work ahead of time. Remember that participants may have been on other web conference calls already the same day as you present to them. “Zoom fatigue” is real. Acknowledge it and find ways to keep your audience engaged.
Be Ready For Your Close-Up
While framing yourself on stage is important, it may be more important when people look at you on a screen. Ensure your distance and placement is such that there is room around you. Being too close to the screen could crop your face and make your audience uncomfortable. Practice your speech or presentation looking at the camera and NOT the screen. This may feel abnormal at first — but looking at the camera is the same as having eye contact when on stage (maybe even more so). When you focus your attention on the camera, the audience will feel as if you are looking at them (in a good way).
This last tip applies equally to in-person and online. People’s B.S. radar is higher than ever. Any hint of phoniness or insincerity will turn people off. On the other hand, being genuine in your presentation will build trust with your audience — a critical part of having them receive your message positively. People will relate to you and engage deeper if you speak with confidence and genuine passion about your topic. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be Yourself, everyone else is taken.”
Geoffrey Klein is the Founder & CEO of nine Dot, a video and animation company that helps businesses share their message through visual communication to connect with their audience. Geoffrey is also a TEDx speaker and an adjunct professor at Temple University’s School of Media & Communications. His experience spans from being legally trained to working for Seth Godin to working on major motion pictures at Paramount Pictures and MGM Studios.