Your most asked questions about public speaking answered

Q:  How many slides should I have in a (__) minute presentation?

A: Who cares? Yep, you read that right.  The number of slides is pretty much irrelevant.  What is important is this;  there should only be one big idea per slide.  If you have supporting ideas for that one big idea, OK, but no more than 3 supporting ideas.  (And I mean it.)  And by ideas, I don’t mean sentences, I mean phrases.  If you’re showing a line chart to illustrate a point and you’re showing a 5 year spread of data, show one year at a time.  This may mean you have to create 5 slides if your version of PowerPoint won’t allow you to animate the chart.  OK, so you have 5 slides to show one chart, who cares? Your objective is (or should be) to keep the audience with you.The best way to ensure that is to feed them the information a bite at a time. The number of slides is irrelevant.

Q:  How do I keep myself from blanking out in the middle of a presentation, and what do I do if it happens?

A:  Remember, your audience knows you’re human.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I just lost my thought.” or even, “My mind just went blank.”  In fact, confessing that you’re like the rest of us will make you more accessible – always a good thing.  What’s more, when you’re not bothered by a ‘senior moment’ neither is your audience.  Having said this; there is nothing wrong with having memory triggers (aka notes).  These should not be sentences, or worse, paragraphs.  Your memory triggers should be phrases or words that will remind you where you’re going.  They should be separated by space and should be printed in large font so that you can glance down, see what you need to see, and keep talking.

The best way to prevent blanking out is PRACTICING OUT LOUD. This will allow you to be retracing a path you’ve been down a few times when you actually give the presentation, which takes a lot less mental and emotional energy than finding your way through your presentation for the very first time in front of real live people. Chances of stumbling, losing your way, or blanking out are greatly diminished.

Q:   What do I do with my hands?

A:  It seems just about everybody thinks they should be doing something other than what comes naturally when it comes to their hands and public speaking.   How this got started, I have no idea.  (possibly the 7%-38&-55% myth had something to do with it.  To read my debunking of that whole thing click here.)  The answer is simple;  you should do with your hands whatever you normally do with your hands when in animated conversation with friends.  If you are someone who uses your hands to express yourself, by all means use your hands when presenting.  If you are someone who typically speaks without gesturing, that is OK too.  Do NOT allow someone to choreograph gestures for you.  You will look stiff, unnatural and inauthentic; three attributes that will cause an audience to mistrust what is coming out of your mouth.  Put simply;  do YOU.  If you’re a big gesturer – keep it up!  If you’re a “no hands” kind of speaker, that works too. The most important thing is to be YOU.

Q: What can I do about my fear of public speaking?

A:  Whenever I give a presentation about public speaking and ask how many in the audience are afraid of it or just plain don’t like it, about half the hands in the room go up, reminding me what a big source of fear this is.  For those of you reading this who are fearful speakers, here are a couple things to keep in mind.  First, public speaking is not about the speaker.  He or she is merely the deliverer of the thing the audience cares about, which is the message.  That’s why they’re there; not to evaluate you, but to listen to and get something from your message.  So, if you find yourself thinking about yourself – snap out of it! Turn your focus 180 degrees.  Dedicate all of your energy and mental bandwidth to your message and getting that message across to your audience.  There’ll be no room for thoughts of you and no attention paid to nerves.

Second, PRACTICE OUT LOUD. If you practice out loud I promise you, you will be an exponentially less nervous speaker. Why? Well, for starters, you won’t be discovering the missing parts to your presentation in front of real live people, you won’t be trying out phrases and transitions and explanations for the first time in front of real live people, and you won’t be making mistakes, stumbling and finding your way through a presentation in front of real live people.The beauty of practice is that all of these things get resolved. In practice, we get comfortable with our material, we know what’s coming next, we’ve heard ourselves say these words and phrases before. In short, we are prepared to be standing in front of real live people!

Third, get to the site of your presentation early and scope out the room.  Stand where you’ll be standing to present.  Get a good sense of what it feels like, what the audience will look like, allow yourself to feel comfortable.  This way when you begin your presentation you’ll begin with a feeling of familiarity rather than “Wow, so this it what it feels like up here.”

Q:  I know I’m not supposed to have a lot of text on my slides, but what about when I’m asked to send them ahead of time, or people request them afterward?

A:  This is a super easy answer, but requires time on your part.  The answer:  the slide deck you send should not be the same one you show. (In fact, a document is probably better to send than a PowerPoint deck.)  The deck you show should have virtually NO text on it.  Maybe three bullets on a slide (and those should be words or phrases, not sentences) or one relatively short sentence in the middle of a slide.  Otherwise, your slides should be true visuals; diagrams, charts, graphs, photos.

The deck (or document) you send can be very text dense.  It can have paragraphs if you like.  Why the difference?  A document you send can be read at the recipient’s leisure, pace and frequency.  Plus, the version you send will not have the benefit of you there to explain it.  Whatever is sent will need to be fully self-explanatory.  Exactly the opposite of a PowerPoint deck you are using as an accompaniment to YOU the presenter. The visuals are there only to show the things you cannot get across by simply telling.

These are the top five, the tip of the iceberg. Got a question of your own?  Let me hear from you!  We’ll clear up the confusion, put misconceptions to rest and you’ll be on your way to be heard.

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