Speaker’s confidence can sell presentation

By Michelle Eppley

Call “It” the great equalizer of business today. No matter the industry, the age, the sex and usually even the education, nothing causes greater anxiety among business executives.

“It” is the speaker’s podium and having to stand in front of people and give a presentation.

The fact is, others make decisions about us based primarily on visual and vocal cues. How we look and what we sound like communicates even more than the words we use. For example, a monotone voice gives the impression that we are uninteresting and withdrawn. Anxiety often shows itself as an unreliable voice, and excessively fast speech rate, and rapid, repetitive posture shifts. But these are all things that can be improved.

Enhancing the sound and style of the presentation helps speakers learn to deliver with a voice that garners respect and trust. A pleasant, full, resonant voice projects them as assertive and credible. Well-placed gestures and posture shifts can help emphasize important points. In short, the presentation can be more interesting, the message better remembered and the speaker perceived as dynamic and confident if vocal variety, a moderate speech rate, and a conversational style are incorporated into the message.

Easier said than done, right? Indeed. But with practice, anyone can improve.

Here are some basic tips that can help:

  • Relaxing and energizing: When the speaker is relaxed, the audience relaxes—and listens. A simple practice for relaxing before a presentation is to focus on breathing. Don’t interfere with it, just observe it. Several minutes of this focus can easily induce a deep state of relaxation. Stretching and shaking out your arms and legs will also help create the relaxed and energized feeling you want.
  • Movement: Effective, coordinated gestures may be the most important way to show a personal style during a presentation because they can help emphasize important points. Posture should be aligned and relaxed.
  • Space: Increasing space in the mouth by incorporating a slight yawn feeling while talking can increase volume and make speech easier to understand.
  • Have confidence: Imagine yourself walking confidently to the lectern as the audience applauds. Imagine speaking with a clear, loud and assured voice. Concentrate on the message, not the medium. Nervousness will dissipate if attention is focused on the message and not yourself. And remember, most of the time a speaker’s nervousness does not show at all.
  • Be yourself: Speakers are their best when these tips stop being techniquesand start becoming natural. Connection is what the audiences ultimately want—information presented in a way that is natural for the speaker to give and comfortable for the audience to receive. Eye contact, listening receptively even while speaking, and being passionate about the topic will carry the message to the listeners’ hearts and minds.
  • Experience and Training: Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. Most beginning speakers find their anxieties decrease after each speech they give. For many, however, the opportunities to give formal presentations are too few and far apart, or the individual has suddenly been cast into a new responsibility that will require more speaking. In these cases, the feedback of a trainer may be necessary to make long-lasting, positive change.

Being able to give good presentations is a vital skill in business today. And a dynamic speaking presence can greatly enhance your status and effectiveness as a leader, giving you a valuable edge many business leaders lack. You have ideas…learn to deliver them so others listen.

Printed in The Business Ledger, September 9, 2002.