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Know that public speaking is the number one human fear. So if you have ever been or are a bit nervous about giving presentations in public, realize you are not alone. Most people have the same problem.

In a survey from the Book of Lists, people were asked, “What are you most afraid of?” Public speaking was the number one answer. In fact, fear of death was sixth on the list. In other words, you are not alone.

So we congratulate you on taking the first step to improving yourself in this area. Let’s talk about the Ten Tips and how they can begin to help you right away.

Tip No. 1: Eye contact

When the majority of people are up in front of a group they start their physical activity by rapidly scanning the room with their eyes. They spray the audience with their vision. Look: adrenaline is already shooting through your body, you’re anxious and nervous. Spraying the room with your “aerosol eyes” simply compounds the problem. It makes it worse. Very quickly your brain becomes overwhelmed with all of this visual input: different faces, different colors, different clothes, different countenances.

What you need to do is find an anchor and to lock in on one individuals eyes. You need to slow down, get your bearings. You will then have a chance to channel your nervous energy.

In other words: look at just one person, look at their eyes, speak to one person at a time. Then pause, and find the next individual. Instead of speaking to a group... have a series of one-on-one conversations with the individual members of the audience. And if your eyes aren’t locked, your jaw must be!

Tip No. 2: Gesturing

What do you do with your arms, your hands or your feet and the rest of you body? Typically men put their hands in their pockets. We often see the fig leaf position, or the ‘phone booth’, in which presenters hug themselves with both arms.

You will also see people do all kinds of nervous fidgeting with their hands, with their arms. They really don’t know what to do. What we suggest is that you do use your arms and hands, but that you use gestures to specifically emphasize the things that you are talking about.

If you are speaking about a big opportunity, let’s see how big that opportunity is. If you are speaking about an increase, let’s make sure that your gesture reflects that specific increase by its altitude from the floor.

Use emphatic gestures and use gestures to describe things. Then when you are not using your arms or there is no need to, simply allow them to drop naturally to the side into what we term the neutral position.

Tip No. 3: Inflection and volume

Have you ever been to presentation where the presenter spoke in a monotone, “It’s- great-to-see-everybody-Thank-you-very-much-for-coming-today-I-have-some-exciting-news-for-you.” BOOOORING!

You want to increase your volume, and increase your voice inflection, which means the variance in the pitch or the tone of your voice. It is more interesting, more exciting to listen to a presenter that has passion and feeling in their voice. Speak to your audience with belief and you will soon see they will share that belief.

Tip No. 4: Humor and jokes

We receive a lot of questions about this. “Should I start with a joke?” Should I loosen things up with some humor in the beginning?”

Let me ask you...How many people do you know who can actually come into a room full of strangers and pull off a joke? It is what we call a Break Even / Lose proposition. If it works you haven’t gained much: if it doesn’t work you can lose your audience for the entire presentation. It’s risky business.

It’s a high stakes gamble. We suggest if you like using humor, feel out your audience first. If you feel humor might be appropriate, use humor. But using humor up front can be very, very difficult. You are at your highest state of nervousness, your audience is sizing you up and remember first impressions last forever. Many audiences feel that using humor or jokes in business signals you are not taking them seriously.

The type of humor that is most effective is self deprecation. Make fun of yourself. We are not suggesting you call yourself an idiot or the audience may say to themselves “He sure is” and you’ve lost them. Just don’t take yourself so seriously. A lot of times we will joke about the fact that our writing isn’t that good or my ability to draw is awful. Typically if people have been with us in a two day seminar, they already know that. So go ahead and make fun of yourself. It is a safe form of humor to use.

Tip No. 5: Designing visuals

How many times have you been to a presentation where the presenter is literally confused by her own visual? They look up at the screen and they say, “Well what you have here is, well, gee, I’m not sure, well what I meant is…” – what is that presenter doing? They are essentially saying that they haven’t taken the time to simplify and become familiar with their own visuals and now they expect you to look at it and understand it.

The point is to keep your visuals simple in design. You don’t want an unsolved mystery up on the screen. Make sure that it is very clear and keep in mind that people read from top to bottom and left to right. Design your visuals to be read that way.

Make those visuals easy to understand. Your talk doesn’t need to be simple, but the visuals you use to cue your audience to hear what you’re saying do.

About the Author: J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.

Published - April 2009

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