Public Speaking – How To Look Confident

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We all know that people, when they first meet us, form an opinion of us within the first few seconds. How you look and sound at the start of a presentation is vital. Your impact dictates how the audience will interpret your messages. If you have a low impact, the audience will tend to question everything you say. If you start with high impact, the audience will tend to ‘hear you out’.

Clearly when we are presenting to someone, we are communicating with them. So let’s remind ourselves of the way human beings communicate with each other.

Words 7% Tone 38% Body language 55%

So what does that tell us as far as presenting is concerned? If ‘words’ are only 7% of our ability to communicate, then we had better not rely on them! We have all seen presentations where the presenter did little but talk words at us, whether they read them from notes or from their visual aids, and we will remember how boring it was, how quickly we lost interest. Presentations like this don’t work. The speaker fails to get his message across. (We call these ‘survival specials’, the speaker’s only objective being to ‘survive’ the presentation and sit down when it’s over. There’s no attempt to achieve anything.)

For our presentations to have impact, therefore, we need to do more than just speak the words, we need to bring some variety into our tone of voice and use our body language positively. Why is body language so vital? To understand this we need to be aware of the power of the senses in receiving information during face-to-face communication:

Eyes 83% Ears 11% Touch 3% Taste 2% Smell 1%

So the body language we are using is hitting our audience’s most powerful and most used sense, the eyes. It is vital that we use our body language positively.

Nerves are a problem for all presenters. Everyone is nervous when they present, at least for a time. (We reckon if you’re not feeling nervous when you present then you need psychiatric help!). How nervous? Well it varies from person to person and from occasion to occasion. Even experienced presenters are nervous at the start of a presentation but what they know is that they will quickly calm down as they get into their talk. Inexperienced presenters think that nerves only happen to them. (I like surveys and this is one of my favourites – what makes people frightened? However many surveys are done on people’s fears, public speaking always comes out as number one. Death is usually third or fourth! Logically, people would rather die than stand up in front of an audience! I have learned never to run presentation skills courses in high buildings. If I have to, I make the participants pay in advance!)

Nerves affect the way we look on stage. We tend to loose control of our legs and our hands. We are so full of adrenaline that we can’t stand still. We ‘dance’ around stage; we fidget. Train yourself to stand still at the start of your talks, feet about shoulder width apart. And get your hands under control by holding hands with yourself at around navel height. By placing your hands there, they are in the best position for gestures to get going.

So how do we control these nerves? In the long run by doing lots of presenting. Experience teaches us to live with our nerves and teaches us that we do get over them a few seconds or minutes into our talks. In the short term, the secret is good preparation and understanding that you never look as nervous as you feel.

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