Speak Easy

Scared stiff by public speaking? Try our tips for presenting like a pro.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the September 1998 issue of . Subscribe »

The one thing that leaves most people white-knuckled is the idea of speaking in public. In fact, more people say they're afraid of than say they're afraid of death! But ask top entrepreneurs what has helped propel them and their businesses to the forefront, and they'll tell you their ability to motivate groups of people has been instrumental in their success.

As an entrepreneur, you'll have many opportunities to build your business by addressing groups, whether in sales presentations, seminars or talks before members of your community. A successful presentation depends on three factors: content, structure and style. Once you learn to create solid presentations, you may actually look forward to speaking in public.

When planning a presentation, start by considering what your wishes to gain from your talk. Then create a speech that presents relevant facts and reasonable solutions. Structure your presentation so it flows logically, and incorporate visuals to add interest. Leave time for questions and audience interaction to build rapport and demonstrate your expertise.

Typically, content and structure are less of a problem for presenters than is the issue of style. Choose presentation tools that are appropriate to the venue and help you shine. You can produce an eye-catching and comprehensive presentation using a presentation package, such as Corel PRESENTS or Powerpoint, in combination with a computer and a projector or monitor. These programs allow you to incorporate bulleted points, images, and audio and video clips. But no matter whether you use the latest high-tech equipment or a simple pointer with flip charts, make sure your presentation is visually appealing and never dull. Your materials are your violin--and you'll be judged by how well you play.

Most important, keep your presentation free of negative behavior. Eliminate anything that detracts from communicating solid, benefit-oriented information in an engaging format.

Over the years, I've worked with many problem presenters. Here are just a few of the most common types. See if you can spot a problem you need to work on.

The Slow Talker speaks at an unnaturally halting rate that makes the audience want to jump out of their seats with impatience.

The Low Talker speaks quietly, generally with eyes cast down. This awkward eventually makes the audience so uncomfortable, they forget what's being said and concentrate on the speaker's embarrassment instead.

The Double Talker presents few substantiated facts and tends to over-promise. His or her proposals sound too good to be true.

The Droner just doesn't know when to stop. The presentation goes on endlessly, with no respect for the audience's time.

The Techie presents too many details and little bottom-line content. Techies often get bogged down with charts and graphs that are difficult to read and understand.

The Stiff stands behind the podium with hands folded, reading from a script, making few if any gestures, and simply bores the audience to death.

The Apologizer destroys his or her credibility by making excuses, often right at the outset, which can sabotage the entire presentation.

The Twitcher is a nervous presenter who may repeatedly grin, grimace or make other repetitious motions, such as pointing a finger in the air for emphasis or swaying from one foot to the other.

The Show-off gives more glitz than substance, offering few relevant facts or solutions.

The best presenter is the one I call the Straight Shooter. He or she makes eye contact with the audience, uses natural body movement, and may even move around the room instead of standing stiffly in one spot. The Straight Shooter uses direct language so everything is understandable and clear.

To eliminate negative behaviors from your own presentations, set up a videocamera and tape a rehearsal or two. Watch the tape critically. Some of the most common negative behaviors are the easiest to spot, so with just a bit of practice, you can smooth out the rough edges and create a presentation style you'll be proud of.

Track Records

"In a start-up company, every dollar is precious, so you need to know what you're getting for your money," says Jim Hackett, president of Direct Results Group Inc. Hackett's Boston-based direct-marketing agency advises clients to carefully track their advertising results in order to gauge how each advertising medium is working and plan future advertising expenditures.

Creative Bird Accessories, a Darien, Connecticut, company that produces a 72-page catalog of products for exotic pet birds and their owners, has made tracking ad results part of day-to-day operations since the company was founded more than six years ago. "It gives us a guide for where to do our advertising, whether we should increase the size of our ads and where our volume is coming from," explains vice president Peter Deutsch. This information is vital to Deutsch, who places advertising in magazines in the United States, Japan, Germany and England, and has a mail order Web site (http://www.webscope.com/cba).

To build an effective direct-response campaign, start by putting an offer with a call to action in every ad. For example, your ad could ask respondents to call for a free booklet. Then track responses by building devices into your marketing materials that help you identify where your respondents come from. You can track print advertising responses by using a special telephone number or extension; have mail-in responses go to a specific mailbox; or even attach a suffix pointer that sends a browser directly to the right page on your Web site, advises Hackett.

Finally, enter all the response data into a good contact management database so that even after you've closed the sale, you can maintain contact with your customers by mail or phone on an ongoing basis. "The respondents' information goes into our computer with a coded symbol, so they become a part of our mailing list and we know exactly where they heard about us," says Deutsch. By successfully tracking advertising responses, Creative Bird Accessories has built a 112,000-name active mailing list of bird lovers . . . and a growing business.

Contact Sources

Creative Bird Accessories, (800) 765-2325

Direct Results Group Inc., (617) 250-5000, jhackett@directresults.com


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