Leading people: No need to fear public speaking

Research, preparation and a clear idea of what you want to achieve are vital.

Most managers will have to give formal presentations at some stage in their careers. It seems the dread of public speaking is second only to fear of spiders in the world of phobias. I've heard it said that the human brain is a remarkable thing - it works from the moment you're born until the moment you stand up to speak in public.

Making a public presentation effective begins long before you deliver it. First, you need to research your audience. Find out who they are and what they know, as well as the context of the presentation within the event. For example, is it at the end of a long day?

Second, research the venue and where you will be standing in relation to your audience. Don't be bullied by the organisers into using a lectern if you don't want to. Some of the most interesting speakers I have heard use a lapel mike and walk about freely.If giving a talk to a large audience, I always ask for the house lights to be on, rather than using a spotlight, so I can interact more with delegates.

Third, you need to be clear about what your presentation will achieve. This will affect decisions about your content and delivery. Many people confuse the purpose of a presentation with the outcome. If you focus on the change you want to see in your audience as a result of your presentation, you'll identify the desired outcome.

Being clear about the outcome will help make your presentation more powerful. For example, to inspire your audience you might build in some physical activity to get the adrenaline going, or show them a striking image, or even use poetry or quotations.

Structuring the presentation is one of the easier things to do. Give it a punchy and memorable beginning, then add three to five key points (the ones you want the audience to remember) and a strong conclusion that signals the end. Illustrate the main points with real examples - stories, not statistics, is the rule.

Finally, don't use PowerPoint unless you have to. If you do, keep it to a minimum. Try to think of other visual aids to use, but don't forget that the best visual aid is you.

- Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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