Practise, Practise, Practise

When we are asked to give a talk or a presentation we often spend very little time preparing and this can be our downfall. Did you know that the average presenter doing a TED talk spends approximately 200 hours preparing? Yes 200 hours! And the majority of the presenters sound casual, relaxed and spontaneous. So, how do you achieve that “planned spontaneity”? It’s very simple. Practise!

When asked to give a presentation start by brainstorming the topic. What is the key message that you want your audience to walk away with? Now, what stories, examples and points are you going to use to make that key message sink in? Once you have this, start thinking about the structure of your talk. What will be your engaging opening story that draws your audience in and captures their attention? What points will you make to support your key message? Now that you have this sketched out, start rehearsing. Start talking out loud to get the feel for how your introduction, main points and conclusion sound. Now, reflect and revise. This is a cycle that needs to be repeated many, many times- Run, Revise. Reflect. Keep doing this until you feel comfortable with the flow, the transitions and ensuring that your key message is getting though.

Now, practise in front of someone you trust, you feel comfortable in front of and who you know will give you honest feedback. Often we can get so caught up in our own topic and our own knowledge of the topic that we forget that our audience may not grasp certain points or that our message is not clear. This is the job of our “test” audience. They can help us make sure we’ve got the message right and that it comes across clearly and concisely.This also gives you the opportunity to practise your eye contact, rate, volume, pitch and prosody – all the important features that will assist in making your presentation interesting to listen to. 

If you’re nervous, then practise is the key. It is only through practise that you feel more comfortable, confident and know that you know your material. If you believe in yourself, so will your audience.

Good luck!

Tips for engaging your audience and killing the boredom factor in a presentation

In this post I’d like to talk about PowerPoint. PowerPoint can be a really effective tool that helps your audience understand and remember your message but for most people it can also be the main reason why your presentation is boring and why your audience switch off.

I’d like to challenge you to think about how you use PowerPoint. Stop thinking about it as a place where you can put your notes to remind you of what to say and start thinking of it as a visual aid to support the key messages that you are saying.

1. Brainstorm

Don’t open PowerPoint. Get out a piece of paper and a pen and do a mind map of your key messages and key points. Take the time to think about how long you have to present, who you are presenting to, what your audience already knows about the topic and what they need to know.

2. The structure

Be clear about the introduction, your key points and your conclusion. Your conclusion should tie back into your introduction. 

Once the structure is clear in your mind it will be much easier to use PowerPoint effectively to reinforce your key points rather than getting the slides to say them for you.

2. Use examples and stories

A good public speaker is essentially a good story teller. Giving examples and stories helps your audience understand the key points and why the points are important and relevant to you and to them. This also helps you connect with your audience and build a relationship with them.

3. Do you need slides?

For some reason, now that we have access to PowerPoint we think that every presentation we do needs to have slides. This is not necessarily the case. Think about the purpose of your presentation, the size and the formality. If it is large group then slides may be appropriate but if it is a small workshop of 10 or so people, using a whiteboard may be more effective tool. 

4. Designing your slide deck

If you decide you do need slides then think carefully about which points in your presentation you need these. Go through your well-prepared notes and decide on which points would benefit from emphasis with a slide. Remember, if you don’t absolutely need a slide then don’t use one.

Next, think about whether your going to use words or images on your slides. Remember the 7 x 7 rule- no more than 7 words per line and no more than 7 lines per slides. Some of the most effective slides are those that have only one or two words to highlight a key word or phrase.

If using graphs, make sure they are readable. You must also give the graphs meaning. There is no point in putting up a slide that no one can read and no one understands the purpose of.

By far, the most powerful way to use PowerPoint is to use images. Images give power to your message, make you stand out from the crowd, help your audience understand your key points and helps your audience remember them. 

5. Be prepared

Whenever I give a presentation with or without slides, I stand up and rehearse it out loud. This is the only way to know whether the flow is right, to get your pacing and transitions correct and to be able to speak with confidence. Through practice you also have the opportunity to work on making your voice engaging and interesting.. Think about where you will pause and the rise and fall of your voice. No one wants to listen to a monotone presentation and the delivery is key to ensuring your message gets across to your audience clearly and effectively

Is my accent impacting on my ability to get my message across clearly?

Sometimes when English is not your first language you may find that accents can be a barrier to effective communication. For example, someone with a strong Australian accent may be difficult for someone from India to understand and vice versa. Particularly in our professional lives, we want to make sure that our message gets across clearly and effectively regardless of our accent. In some cases, this may mean consciously thinking about how to neutralise our accent in order to facilitate the message getting across clearly and effectively. However, this does require patience and perseverance. An accent neutralisation course may also be useful to assist this process. To get you started though, here are some general tips:

1.  Listen to other speakers of English who have neutral accents. I find that news presenters (particularly on SBS and ABC) have the best neutral accents. Think about how they produce speech sounds and words and how this may differ from how you produce certain words and sounds. 

2. Learn where and how standard English speech sounds are produced in the mouth. For example where is /t/ produced in the mouth vs /k/?  Where are the different vowels produced? e.g. the “a” in “may” vs the “a” in “man” etc.

3. The next step is to practice producing one sound in different words. Pick one sound and try it first in different words, then short phrases, sentences and finally conversation. For example, if you choose to work on /w/ (perhaps you say /v/ for the /w/ sound) as in “wine”, then first practice /w/ on it’s own, then in short words e.g. “wine, way, will, power”  etc. and then try it in short phrases and sentences, for example “what is the weather today?”. Finally try focusing on its production when you are having everyday conversation. 

The key with this is not to try and change everything at once. Pick one sound, master it and then move on to another. 

For all of these steps recording yourself will also be useful in order to hear your own speech back. Also, if you feel comfortable, ask a close friend or family member to give you feedback.

Good luck!

Link

“Students’ reliance on screens for communication is detracting—and distracting—from their engagement in real-time talk.” Do you think people are losing the ability to talk to one another?

In the 21st century, is there any skill more important than being able to sustain a confident and coherent conversation? This article explores the difficulty students are having today with engaging in face-to-face communication because of their reliance on digital communication. 

Face-to-face communication teaches us how to be patient, listen, turn-take and share experiences in “real-time.” Job interviews are not conducted (on the whole) via smartphones or text messaging and dealing with conflict or negotiating your next pay-rise is always best done in person. Engaging in effective conversation teaches you how to think on your feet and be present.

However, it is not all “doom and gloom.” These are skills that can be nurtured and refined. A program in effective communication skills can assist students in mastering this skill in all environments.  

I recently worked with a group of Monash University medical students (Ignite) competing in a 3-minute global health public speaking competition as part of of World Health Day on April 7th (http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2014/en/) . This is a tough competition where you need to communicate an idea clearly and effectively in just 3-minutes. I provided a public speaking “masterclass” to each of the finalists. With one of the finalists, I spent over 2 hours with them and we completely took her planned talk apart and then put it back together to make it personal and something that the audience could relate to and as a result, she won! Following which, she sent me the following email:

Hi Naanki,

I really wanted to say thank you for all your help, the lesson was absolutely invaluable both for the presentation and for any future public speaking and I definitely attribute much of my win to you so thanks so much!  I was really glad that it came together in the end and I think it really projected my message in a way that made people think about climate change. I had a couple of people come up to me afterwards and say that they really appreciated my message and it had made them want to be more thoughtful about their own carbon footprint so that was really great.  

Thanks again Naanki, I really appreciate all your help.

Dini

For me, this is what makes it all worthwhile. 

Nancy Duarte- The secret structure of great talks

Nancy describes beautifully the power of story telling to communicate our ideas.
From the “I have a dream” speech to Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch, all great presentations have a common architecture. This TED talk is not only informative but inspiring.

http://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_duarte_the_secret_structure_of_great_talks#

Public speaking for children

Being able to communicate effectively is an important life skill that all children should embrace. I remember from a very young age my parents sending me to voice and speech classes and I loved them. It was a space where I was encouraged be creative, where I learnt how to stand up and speak with confidence in front of an audience and how to use my voice, inflection and intonation to engage an audience. It is this early training which lead me to becoming a speech pathologist and then becoming a communications coach.

Public speaking also assists children build their self-esteem and how to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely. These skills are invaluable at school to move into leadership positions and also for job or university entrance interviews.

I am also convinced that because I got so much training in my early years of standing in front of an audience, I learnt how to manage my nerves and as a result I do not find public speaking a threatening experience.

For more information on enrolling your child in classes see http://vocalchord.com.au/students.html