When I was in elementary school, I attended a school designed
to provide learning experiences that challenged students. Among the many
projects and topics that were addressed each year, one constant we could
anticipate was that we would be giving presentations on something
that was related to the year’s theme. Whether it was something we collected in
first grade (hair accessories) or the architectural accomplishment of our
choice in fifth grade (the Space Needle), we would research our topic, stand up
in front of our class with the video recorder capturing every detail, and tell
our peers what we learned. This foundation served me well throughout my school
years, whether it was running for office, or giving my final Senior Project
speech; I had numerous opportunities to use the skills I had unknowingly been
taught when I was young.
At some point along the way, it became something I stopped
practicing. While I may not get a letter grade based on my performance anymore,
public speaking and presenting are things we are judged on daily, by everyone
we encounter. Improving upon these skills can effect everything from the
success of a conference call to a big presentation in a packed meeting room, in
a positive way. Because of this, when I was given the opportunity to attend one
of Distinction Communication’s workshops this spring with a group of women, I
jumped on it.
During the workshop, we went over the four most basic and
helpful tips that can instantly improve how what you’re saying is received.
1. Maintain eye contact with one person for five seconds before moving on to the next.
Eye contact can be used to draw people into
what you’re saying and keep your audience engaged in your presentation. Five
seconds can feel like forever while you’re getting used to making good eye contact
a habit; but to those you are talking to, it feels like you are actually
talking directly to them. One easy way to practice this skill is to count on
your fingers while you’re rehearsing your speech. This will give you a good
sense of how long you will engage with one person and you can give yourself
verbal cues as to when you can move on to the next person.
2. Create hand gestures that illustrate the
points you are making.
It feels weird and rehearsed at first to
use gestures that emphasize what you’re saying; but the audience won’t even
notice that you’re doing it until they can remember what you said because they
can visualize what you were doing with your hands. TED speakers seem to be
great at this art form, like in this talk from Kelly
McGonigal on stress. After watching just the opening minutes of her talk, I
can visualize her taking a poll of the audience and asking who has very little
stress in their lives. Hand gestures are a sneaky thing you can utilize to
enhance your presentation.
3. Move around!
Your feet aren’t nailed to the ground, so
make sure you don’t just stand in one place for the length of your speech. Walking
from one side of the stage to the other, at a relaxed pace, draws the audience
in, and makes the people that you are walking towards notice that you’re
talking to them.
4. Keep the audience interested with the use of
There are many ways that “how” you say
something can take away from the words that you use. Pausing for a moment to
link to your next thought can help you stop using the dreaded “ums”. Make sure
your inflection ends a sentence with certainty rather than letting your pitch go
up and sounding like the end of every sentence you say is a question. Be
passionate about what you’re talking about and your audience will catch on to
your passion and want to hear more about it.
The best part of the Distinction Communication Workshop was
having an entire day to practice these helpful strategies. It was a great forum
for getting real-time feedback on areas for improvement and an open environment
to learn from others.
On November 12th, Silver Fox will co-sponsor Distinction Communication’s next
workshop in Bellevue, so you too can take advantage of this great opportunity.
For more information and to sign up, visit the information page. Whether you have a presentation coming up or just want to brush up on your
skills, it’ll be a great time to see what you’re doing well and work on some
areas that may need improvement. We hope to see you there!