Some of you will know that I put my former career hat back on to give a lot of lectures in the autumn term of each academic year. It’s been a particularly busy few weeks, which is why I haven’t published a post for a bit, but it’s great to keep my lecturing practice going in terms of my professional skills and I feel that working with new mature students to boost their confidence in degree level study is very worthwhile work.
It’s also demanding work, and some jobs involve my standing up in front of an audience of up to sixty people for 4-5 hours at a time. I’m grateful that a) I’m fit, as it’s physically tough and b) I’m an experienced and confident speaker with twenty years’ experience, as there can be tricky situations and occasional challenging behaviours to deal with. Case in point: last week I pitched up to speak for three hours to a large group of assorted doctors, nurses and some undergrad medical students from around the world – and no one had actually booked the lecture theatre! It was a tough situation but I made the relevant calls, the administrator somehow found another space and we got going. However, I then had to ditch forty minutes of material at the drop of a hat as we were then running so late.
I’ve learned over the years that there is zero point in stressing when something like this happens. All you can do is try to solve the problem, apologise to those involved and take a deep breath. But, for people for whom just plain old public speaking is their worst nightmare, this added stress would probably push them beyond their limits and create total panic. Also, to be successful in the fitness industry, as well as most employment sectors, you need to be able to present with confidence to create a great profile and get your message out there. Trainers need to be confident in front of group classes, too, so there are many good reasons for wanting to improve your performance in front of a crowd. This year, of course, I’ve had to learn to present for television, too, so it’s all still a work in progress!
Here are my best bits of advice for looking and feeling like a confident presenter, no matter which industry you work in:
– body language is key. You must face your audience with an open chest and square hips. No crossed arms or legs. Get your chin up and make plenty of eye contact. Smile and be engaging.
– never read out loud to your audience. They may as well stay at home and read a transcript of your talk. Be lively and make sure that you offer plenty of added value to those who turned up to see you in person.
– prepare and rehearse all the way through at least three times to iron out poor transitions or any inconsistencies in the logic of your presentation. Never, ever over run your time slot. This is unforgivable and shows a lack of preparation and discrimination in your material.
– advance knowledge is key. Know who you are speaking to and pitch your content accordingly. Know where the venue is so you arrive early and know where to go.
– avoid visual aids unless they are really necessary. You should be the audience’s focus, not the PowerPoint. A few bullet points to outline the talk is enough unless you are required to use graphs and data, but keep it simple and minimal.
– make the audience and their comfort your focus to help detract from your own nerves.
– if you feel very anxious breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four. Smile. Open that chest. Go for it!
– keep your throat lubricated and sip water. I find lozenges called Vocal Zone to be an absolute godsend for keeping my throat clear when I have a lot of speaking engagements. Get them over the counter at Boots.
While I quite enjoy public speaking, I know it’s not the same for everyone. I’m coaching an author to prepare for their book tour right now and am available on a very limited basis (9-5 only and between existing clients) if you need help preparing for a specific speaking event.
Now, get out there, tiger, and slay that audience!