Perfecting Your Public Speaking Persona

Are you a problem presenter? Learn how to avoid these common mistakes.

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By Kim T. Gordon

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The one thing that leaves most people white-knuckled is the ideaof speaking in public. In fact, more people say they're afraidof public speaking than say they're afraid of death! But asktop entrepreneurs what has helped propel them and their businessesto the forefront, and they'll tell you their ability tomotivate groups of people has been instrumental in theirsuccess.

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

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

Typically, content and structure are less of a problem forpresenters than is the issue of style. Choose presentation toolsthat are appropriate to the venue and help you shine. You canproduce an eye-catching and comprehensive multimedia presentationusing a presentation graphics package, such as MicrosoftPowerpoint, in combination with a computer and a projector ormonitor. These programs allow you to incorporate bulleted points,images, and audio and video clips. But no matter whether you usethe latest high-tech equipment or a simple pointer with flipcharts, make sure your presentation is visually appealing and neverdull. Your materials are your violin--and you'll be judged byhow well you play.

Most important, keep your presentation free of negativebehavior. Eliminate anything that detracts from communicatingsolid, 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 aproblem you need to work on.

The Slow Talker speaks at an unnaturally halting ratethat makes the audience want to jump out of their seats withimpatience.

The Low Talker speaks quietly, generally with eyes castdown. This awkward shyness eventually makes the audience souncomfortable, they forget what's being said and concentrate onthe speaker's embarrassment instead.

The Double Talker presents few substantiated facts andtends to over-promise. His or her proposals sound too good to betrue.

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

The Techie presents too many details and littlebottom-line content. Techies often get bogged down with charts andgraphs 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 boresthe audience to death.

The Apologizer destroys his or her credibility by makingexcuses, often right at the outset, which can sabotage the entirepresentation.

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

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

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

To eliminate negative behaviors from your own presentations, setup a videocamera and tape a rehearsal or two. Watch the tapecritically. Some of the most common negative behaviors are theeasiest to spot, so with just a bit of practice, you can smooth outthe rough edges and create a presentation style you'll be proudof.

This article originally appeared in Business Start-Upsmagazine in September 1998.

Kim T. Gordon
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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