For many individuals, public speaking is a primal fear. Delivering a speech summons the same jacked-up fight-or-flight response that animals depend upon to survive predator attacks. Alas, when you give a speech, you can’t fight your way out of trouble or run away from it. Instead, you must summon the courage to speak. Premier speaking coach Jerry Weissman provides a comprehensive set of public speaking techniques to help you win over any audience. If you hope to rise in sales, business or politics, you must be able to deliver a great presentation. Weissman’s book will show you how.
- Anyone can learn to become a powerful presenter.
- Your words matter less than how you deliver them. In fact, your body language counts most of all.
- When you establish empathy with your listeners, they, in turn, will empathize with you and be more receptive to your message.
- Your involuntary fight-or-flight physiological response can undermine your words, but you can combat this reaction if you plan and prepare thoroughly.
- To alleviate your nerves when you speak in public, concentrate on the audience rather than yourself.
- Public speaking is a learned skill, not an innate one.
- Connect your eyes with your audience’s eyes to strengthen the impact of your speech.
- Graphics should support your presentation rather than dominate it.
Anyone can learn to become a powerful presenter.
A fear of public speaking ranks among people’s top phobias. Even public figures such as singer Katy Perry, investor Warren Buffett and actor Lawrence Olivier have admitted to a fear of speaking to a crowd. Public speaking situations trigger a fight-or-flight response in humans. In the moment, the brain perceives danger, and adrenaline surges through the body.
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death…Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld)
Happily, you can overcome your fear if you learn to tweak your perception of public speaking from a performance to an interaction.
Your words matter less than how you deliver them. In fact, your body language counts most of all.
When it comes to public speaking, your vocal delivery and your body language are as important as the words you speak. Great presenters rely on nonverbal communication, body language, and other physical cues. Consider Ronald Reagan, who was known as the “Great Communicator” because of his powerful speaking style. Reagan exuded personality and charisma. Here’s how Howard Rosenberg, a Los Angeles Times TV critic, described Reagan’s podium style: “There is a critical moment early in every Reagan speech when his physical presence begins to eclipse his words – when you begin watching more and hearing less – feeling more and thinking less. Look and mood completely take over.”
“Think of the presenter and the audience…as the beginning and ending points of all interpersonal communications; think of the presenter as a transmitter and the audience as a receiver.”
Nonverbal signals also played a decisive role in the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Nixon’s edginess, weak posture and shifty gaze sharply contrasted with Kennedy’s focus, confidence and charm. The side-by-side comparison cost Nixon his lead in the polls and, eventually, the presidency. Thus, the key to great public speaking is to work on how you want the audience to perceive you, and build empathy with your listeners so that your message gets through.
When you establish empathy with your listeners, they, in turn, will empathize with you and be more receptive to your message.
Establish empathy – involuntary shared feelings between you and the audience. Empathy is a powerful skill, and feelings can be contagious. For example, think about what happens when someone in a group setting yawns. Soon other members of the group start yawning. This is the power of empathy.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)
However, you must project the right form of empathy. If you appear nervous on stage, you will make your audience feel uneasy – a feeling they will project onto whatever you say. If, however, you act confidently, the audience will involuntarily feel good about you, and thus be more receptive to your message. Negative behavior at the lectern results in negative audience perceptions. In contrast, a speaker’s positive behavior inspires positive feelings among audience members.
Your involuntary fight-or-flight physiological response can undermine your words, but you can combat this reaction if you plan and prepare thoroughly.
The ultimate moment of truth unfolds when you get up in front of your audience to speak. Numerous emotional reactions, such as the famous fight-or-flight response, often conspire against the speaker at this crucial time. The heart pumps blood faster as the arms and legs become primed to either combat or escape. The body sweats, and the mouth goes dry. Respiration goes into overdrive. Such physiological reactions work against a poised and powerful presentation. They often result in numerous involuntary physical actions, which the audience perceives as negative. The speaker’s eyes move rapidly back and forth in a furtive manner. The hands wrap together defensively. The voice lowers and grows weak, sounding monotonous and boring. For any speaker, this combination of physical actions and reactions causes a negative perception in the audience.
However, you can avoid this if you are well-prepared. Well-prepared doesn’t mean using a slide deck, script or teleprompter as a crutch to get you through your presentation. Those devices disrupt your connection with your audience, and they can malfunction, casting you adrift. Instead, prepare and plan an effective presentation using the following five steps:
- “FrameForm: Establish the context” – Consider your audience’s stand as “Point A” and your objective as “Point B.” Persuasive communication centers on delivering your listeners from Point A to Point B. Evaluate the makeup of your audience – who they are and what they know – to figure out the best way to motivate them to answer your call to action.
- “Brainstorm: Consider all potential ideas” – Write down all the information your presentation could include. Lay them out in a way that gives you a clear overview, be it on Post-its, a spreadsheet, a whiteboard or a computer screen.
- “Distill: Find and define the key ideas” – Look for connections and relationships among your disparate points. Separate the good ideas from the bad ones, and the great ideas from the good ones. Organize the best concepts into clusters. Distill all the ideas into a maximum of six primary themes.
- “Flow structure: Organize the key ideas into a roadmap” – Sequence your primary themes into a logical flow structure (novelists and screenwriters term this the “story arc”). Tie the individual points and themes into a unified, organized whole.
- “Verbalize: The correct way to practice” – The previous four steps established clarity of mind. To crystallize your ideas, rehearse the words of your speech aloud over and over to become familiar with the flow of the primary concepts. However, never fully memorize your speech, because if you forget even one word, you could lose your train of thought.
To alleviate your nerves when you speak in public, concentrate on the audience rather than yourself.
Professional athletes use a host of techniques to ensure they’re in the right frame of mind to deliver their best performance on match day. For example, athletes spend hours practicing skills that are much more difficult than those required on game day. A baseball player, for instance, might practice batting with a bat that’s half the regulation width, honing the athlete’s concentration on the ball. Athletes also use visualization and meditation techniques, and they see sports psychologists to prepare themselves for big occasions. In short, athletes prepare themselves mentally by shifting their focus away from themselves and toward their objectives. A racing driver focuses on the road; a golfer, on the ball; a skier, on the slope, and so on.
“Think outside yourself, think outside your body, outside your hands and arms and eyes and voice, outside your story, outside your slides, outside your own mind. Think about your audience. Think on an even more granular level. Think about one person. Think about each and every person in your audience, one at a time.”
When you experience stage fright, you likely feel self-conscious, and your spiraling thoughts target your focus on yourself. But when you get out of your own head, you can overcome this fear. Instead, focus on your audience. Turning your attention away from yourself and toward the audience will help ease any nervousness you feel. To get out of your own head and adopt a subjective point of view, employ the three-step “mental method”:
- “Person-to-person conversations” – Select one person in the audience to make the target of your delivery. Imagine that you are chatting, not presenting, to that person. According to a Yale study, “you” is the most persuasive word in the English language. Therefore, plug the word “you” into your presentation wherever possible: For example, say, “The reason this is important to you is…” or “Let me show you.” Then move on and engage in a one-on-one conversation with another audience member.
- “Read the nonverbal reaction” – Great conversationalists take their cues from the people with whom they are speaking, and so do great public speakers. Is someone in the audience smiling at you or nodding affirmatively at what you are saying? These are positive interactions. Does someone else have a puzzled expression or seem distracted? If so, react to that response.
- “Adjust your content” – If your audience members don’t appear to have grasped what you’ve said, adjust your speech so your message hits home. Rephrase your words, explain and define difficult concepts, offer examples, elaborate or add depth if necessary. If your audience members are nodding, signaling that they understand, move on. In the end, you want more heads nodding. When you achieve that, the butterflies in your stomach will fly away.
Public speaking is a learned skill, not an innate one.
Many people think that great public speakers are born, not made. This is a fallacy. You can teach yourself to become a great presenter. The road to mastery is long and uncomfortable. The journey involves four stages:
- Unconscious incompetence – You perform poorly and are unaware of how to improve.
- Conscious incompetence – You become aware of what you’ve done wrong and how to get better.
- Conscious competence – With enough practice and repetition, you’ll gain poise and confidence and notice a marked improvement in your performance.
- Unconscious competence – You are skillful without even thinking about it.
Connect your eyes with your audience’s eyes to strengthen the impact of your speech.
The fight-or-flight response translates to an involuntary “body wrap” posture on stage. This defensive, constricted stance makes you seem uneasy. Connect to your audience by opening your body, using your arms and hands to illustrate your points. Gesture just as you would naturally in any normal conversation. Try extending an open hand in friendship. Reaching out may feel unnatural at first, but, ironically, you will look comfortable to the audience. Use this gesture whenever you employ a “you” sentence. Doing so will reinforce the persuasiveness of your message and helps you project your voice.
“The essence of Reagan’s style was his uncanny ability to be completely at one with his audience in every setting, across every dimension, to make every person in every audience feel as if, ‘He’s speaking to me’.”
Eye contact is a good way to connect with your audience, but at the lectern, “eye connect” is even better. Eye connect means that, as you move around your audience in your individual conversations, be sure to look at each person until you see their reaction. Then adjust your content. Go for head nods. Share affirming nods.
Distribute your weight evenly on both feet. Be animated and passionate. Speak with conviction. Monitor your cadence. Like music, speech needs a beat. Let your words fall into a rhythm. Drop your voice slightly at the end of your phrases to clarify to your listeners that the point is complete. Your audience might mistake a raised inflection for a question or perceive immaturity from the speaker. Deliver a phrase to one person in the audience, then pause to gauge their reaction. Shift to another person and deliver another phrase. Repeat this process throughout your presentation. Eliminate “unwords” – for example, ums and uhs – that act as filler. Instead, pause, giving you time to breathe, read your listeners’ reactions and adjust your content accordingly, and giving your audience time to absorb your words.
If your speech takes place online, make eye contact with your webcam to ensure all participants feel addressed. Position your webcam at eye level so you don’t need to look up or down to engage with your audience. Stand so you can expand your chest and lungs and project your voice.
Graphics should support your presentation rather than dominate it.
Synchronize each section of your presentation with your slides or other graphics. Keep them as simple as possible. Complex or confusing images can overpower your important message. To keep things clear, use closure statements about the slides you show. For example, “These unique product features have made us the market leader.” Don’t face your graphics while you speak. Keep your eyes on your listeners, and avoid turning your back to your audience, muffling your voice and reading your slides line-by-line. Your presentation should not focus on your graphics, but on the particular message you want to convey. Presenters often put so much information on their graphics that their slides become the primary focus of their presentations. Use them merely as visual aids to support you and your message.
“There are two types of speakers: those who get nervous and those who are liars.” (Mark Twain)
As you move through your slides, work with a wireless microphone and remote control. Get out from behind the lectern. To enable audience members to look easily from you to the screen, stand close to it. Keep your arms and hands (and other body parts) out of the projection beam. Your audience members should focus on your presentation instead of being distracted by the odd patterns the light from the projector creates on your body when you inadvertently become part of the screen.
About the Author
Jerry Weissman is a corporate presentations coach and author. His company, Suasive, helps clients make an impact, get results and persuade audiences. He has worked as a consultant for Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, Twilio, Sonos, Lyft, Freshworks, and Ebay, among others.
“The Power Presenter: Techniques, Style, and Strategy to Be Suasive” by Jerry Weissman is a comprehensive guide that aims to equip readers with the necessary skills and strategies to become persuasive presenters. Jerry Weissman, a renowned presentation expert, draws from his extensive experience working with top executives and entrepreneurs to provide valuable insights and practical advice on delivering impactful presentations.
“The Power Presenter” delves into the art of persuasive communication, emphasizing the importance of engaging an audience and effectively conveying one’s message. The book is divided into four main sections, each focusing on a crucial aspect of presentation skills: content, graphics, delivery, and Q&A. Throughout the book, Weissman presents numerous techniques, case studies, and real-life examples to illustrate his concepts and provide actionable guidance.
The book is divided into three parts:
- Part One: Content – How to shape your message and structure your story to capture the attention and interest of your audience.
- Part Two: Graphics – How to design and use visual aids to enhance your message and avoid common pitfalls.
- Part Three: Delivery – How to master your verbal and nonverbal communication skills to connect with your audience and overcome nervousness.
Jerry Weissman’s “The Power Presenter” is a must-read for anyone who wants to enhance their presentation skills and become a more persuasive communicator. The book is not only informative but also engaging, making it accessible to both beginners and experienced presenters.
One of the standout features of this book is the author’s emphasis on the importance of content. Weissman stresses the significance of crafting a compelling story and structuring presentations in a way that captivates the audience from start to finish. He provides practical advice on developing a strong opening, organizing key points effectively, and delivering a memorable closing. By focusing on content, Weissman highlights the fundamental principle that a presentation’s success depends on the strength of its message.
In addition to content, Weissman devotes considerable attention to the role of visual aids, such as slides, in supporting presentations. He encourages presenters to use visuals strategically, ensuring they enhance rather than distract from the message. The author offers practical tips on designing effective slides, using appropriate fonts and colors, and incorporating compelling graphics. His guidance helps presenters strike a balance between engaging their audience visually and maintaining a clear and concise delivery.
Weissman’s book also covers delivery techniques, acknowledging that a presenter’s charisma and ability to connect with the audience are instrumental in conveying their message persuasively. He explores various aspects of delivery, including body language, voice modulation, and the effective use of gestures. By providing actionable recommendations, he enables readers to develop their individual presentation style while maintaining authenticity and credibility.
“The Power Presenter” further addresses the vital aspect of handling questions and answers during presentations. Weissman stresses the importance of preparing for potential inquiries and offers strategies for responding confidently and effectively. By addressing common challenges and providing practical solutions, he equips readers with the tools to navigate Q&A sessions smoothly, further enhancing their persuasive abilities.
While “The Power Presenter” is highly informative and comprehensive, it does require readers to invest time and effort in absorbing and implementing the strategies outlined. The book contains a wealth of information, and readers may find it beneficial to revisit specific sections to fully grasp and apply the concepts.
- Practical Advice: The book is filled with practical advice and actionable tips that can be applied immediately to enhance one’s presenting skills.
- Comprehensive Coverage: The book covers all aspects of presenting, from preparation to delivery, and includes valuable insights on body language, vocal variety, and storytelling techniques.
- Real-Life Examples: The author provides numerous real-life examples of successful presenters, highlighting their techniques and strategies, making the book engaging and relatable.
- Repetitive Content: Some chapters may feel repetitive, as the author emphasizes similar points throughout the book.
- Lack of Visual Aids: The book does not include visual aids, such as diagrams or illustrations, which could have enhanced the reader’s understanding of the presented concepts.
- Preparation is Key: The book stresses the importance of thorough preparation, including researching the audience, crafting a clear and concise message, and rehearsing the presentation until it is polished and confidently delivered.
- Focus on the Audience: The author emphasizes the need to focus on the audience, tailoring the presentation to their needs and interests, and actively engaging them throughout the presentation.
- Storytelling Techniques: The book highlights the effectiveness of storytelling techniques in presentations, including using anecdotes, metaphors, and analogs to make the message more relatable and memorable.
In conclusion, “The Power Presenter: Techniques, Style, and Strategy to Be Suasive” by Jerry Weissman is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to enhance their presentation skills. Weissman’s expertise shines through as he offers practical advice, real-world examples, and actionable techniques. Whether you are a novice presenter or an experienced speaker, this book will undoubtedly help you become a more persuasive and impactful communicator.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommendation: I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to enhance their presenting skills, from beginners to experienced presenters. The book’s practical advice and real-life examples make it a valuable resource for anyone looking to become a more effective and persuasive presenter.