As a new public speaker, you might feel nervous about how your presentation will go. When I was less experienced, I felt a huge fear of possibly boring my audience to death. The only way to gain confidence in your presentation is to practice as much as possible.
Practice presenting in front of friends and family. Ask for feedback on the way you speak, the information you present, the pacing of the presentation, and the quality of your slides (if you have any). This will help you get into a groove and remove the kinks before presenting in front of a larger audience.
The other benefit of practicing is honing in on your speaking style. Every speaker has a distinct style based on their personality. Some people speak slowly, some include sarcastic comments, and some rattle on as if they are a human bottle of Coke and Mentos.
No two speakers have exactly the same style, but there are general points of advice you can follow to make sure people stay interested in the information you are conveying. Your speaking style revolves around the way you move your body and use your voice. There are many variables you can modify, so pick the ones that make you feel most comfortable.
Your audience wants to connect with you, and that means giving them as much attention as they are giving you. Avoid looking down as much as you can, as tempting as your computer is. Look at various members of the audience and work to have eye contact with them for a few seconds at a time. If you rely on notes, practice memorizing a few lines at a time so you can make eye contact with your audience as well.
Other kinds of body language besides eye contact are also important. Your body can tell people when you’re uncomfortable, so even if you are, avoid conveying it by taking control. Keep track of how much your hands are moving. Do not fold your arms or clench your muscles – take up more space, not less. Move either your head or entire body around so that people feel like you are commanding the room.
Another helpful practice is to avoid speaking in a monotonous tone. If you talk like Eeyore, people won’t think you are interested in the subject you are discussing. Avoid reading your notes word-for-word and instead attempt to paraphrase them so your content feels natural. Add cadence and spacing to your sentences, making sure to practice with friends and family to find the right balance. Feel free to add in jokes or sarcasm if that is how you like to talk. The goal is to keep your personality while also making information digestible for others.
How much to practice
The time you need to practice depends on the freshness of the presentation and the size of the audience. The newer your talk, the less you may remember the information you need to share. The larger the audience, the more nervous you might become. To combat this, I do a mock presentation anywhere between five and ten times in front of a small number of people with whom I feel comfortable.
Each time I practice, I become more comfortable with sharing my ideas in front of a full audience. The feedback I have received from friends and family members has made each and every one of my presentations infinitely better. Even if you are a confident speaker, I highly recommend you find some time to practice your talk prior to the real delivery.
Congratulations, you finished the entire series! You will likely see an improvement in your speaking skills if you follow all ten steps. I hope you have learned at least one lesson about yourself from making an effort to become a better speaker.
More people, especially those who are underrepresented in tech and gaming, should be on stages at conferences. I am looking forward to a future in which each conference has different speakers every year rather of the same few elites who run the circuit and appear at as many conferences as possible. Diversity of thought, in addition to other forms of diversity and inclusion, are crucial to preventing our industries from becoming stale, boring, homogeneous think tanks.
Everyone has a distinct voice. I am excited to hear yours.
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