I had the chance to interview Paul Geiger, an accomplished actor and speech coach, and author of the new book, Better Business Speech: Techniques, Tricks and Shortcuts for Public Speaking at Work, which I reviewed on this site. We discussed the many fears people face when they’re about to make a public presentation, and how to address them and gain confidence in the spotlight.
In your book, you note there are two keys to any successful presentation — limiting ideas and controlling the focus. How do these make a difference?
You need to limit your presentation to three ideas as most listeners can’t process more than that many concepts at once. Pick the three that allow you to share your perspective, and resist the urge to overstuff. Don’t go there in order to prove you’re the expert. You can get into the details upon request.
As a presenter, it’s more important to show that you’re in charge by always maintaining control of the focus. When you’re preparing your presentation, don’t just think it — say it out loud! Don’t let the sound of your own voice surprise you. If you use PowerPoint, realize that you’re in competition with your slides for the audience’s attention. So the slides should support your narrative; never read them verbatim. Build anticipation for the next slide by posing a question or an observation that forms a strong segue. Remember, the audience needs your perspective to really understand.
You suggest using “bumper stickers.” Can you explain?
A bumper sticker is the overall theme that you return to throughout a presentation, a conversation, a meeting or a simple networking story. It answers two crucial questions: What’s the point, and: Why does this matter? That may seem like a lot to cram into a single concise phrase, but it will become the key to your speaking success. You don’t come up with a bumper sticker as much as you discover it. You have to filter the information of your topic and recognize what it really means to you. This will give your words weight. Bumper stickers are the bold statements that resonate with your listeners. They also resonate with you and therefore, help to keep you from losing your train of thought.
What role do gestures play in engaging the audience?
Research shows that 50 percent of your message is conveyed through your body language — eye contact, facial expressions, posture and gestures. Gestures, in particular, project a speaker’s ease and comfort. Audiences decide whether to tune in or tune out in the first 30 seconds of any presentation. By using gestures, you assure them that they’re in good hands. The continual use of gesturing serves as the unspoken continuity between spoken thoughts. Of course, your gestures have to be grounded and varied. Good gesturing should always seem spontaneous.
What do you mean by “the energy of attention,” and what should a presenter do to manage it?
The energy of attention is the awareness that someone is paying close attention to you while you’re speaking. You can feel it with a one-on-one conversation, and it only increases as you add more listeners or audience members. The energy of attention can either raise you up or pull you down. It’s a matter of what you do with it. Start by recognizing that it exists, and isn’t all in your head. It triggers a sense of being judged. Deal with these feelings by letting your audience judge how you’re in control. Physically, you have to overcome the tension that causes you to forget to breathe and stay connected to your body. Deep, deliberate breathing with full, supportive gestures will ground you. Ideally, the confidence you have in living up to your own presentation expectations will counteract the energy of attention.
How does Better Business Speech differ from other books on public speaking?
The majority of books on public speaking only look at one part of the overall speech technique picture. Some instruct you on how to manage your fear and others tell you how to prepare your message. Better Business Speech addresses both the mental and the physical aspects of speech, because they inform each other. My goal is to help speakers diminish the mind games and raise the authenticity of their delivery. You have to get out of your own way and let your message flow in order to be a more compelling storyteller, and a more successful businessperson.
Learn more at Geiger’s website.