What you say to your audience is important, but do not forget the other ways to obtain the top grades. No matter how confident you feel, I highly recommend the following tips, which helped me achieve A*s in my graded presentations.
1. Minimum not maximum
Aim for the minimum in everything you prepare. When you set your goals too high, they can intimidate you into not bothering to attempt them. Set small goals and you will meet them and go beyond in the speech. Aim to speak for the minimum time allowed instead of the maximum, which will leave you time to think and speak slowly and clearly.
2. Pictures and words
When you make notes on your speech, draw pictures as well as words to help you remember key points. You don’t have to be the best artist in the world. As long as you know what the drawing is then that’s all that matters.
3. Nice visuals
Listening to someone talk for a long time can be boring, so spice up your presentation. Use props like photographs, quality drawings, diagrams, video tapes or DVDs, powerpoint presentations and even invite guest speakers. All of this will not only keep your audience interested, but impress the teacher or boss watching. A fantastic grade or promotion might follow…
4. Eye contact
Maintaining eye contact is another impressive trait. In presentations, nervous people tend to look anywhere but where the audience is. Try and look at different people during the presentation. There’s always someone writing what you’re saying down or looking away, so focus on that person. Maybe you could focus on the teacher. If the nerves are too overwhelming, shift eye contact more frequently. If eye contact is too much, look at people’s foreheads, noses or any other facial feature close to their eyes. Like I said before, set a small goal and gradually e.g. try to make eye contact with two people this time, and maintain eye contact for two seconds next time.
5. Social anxiety (SA)
Some people, including myself, fear of social situations. Day-to-day socialising, like answering a register, making phone calls and greeting newcomers, is a hard task. If you deal with extreme nervousness like SA, let your superiors know beforehand. You could discuss, in emails if speaking is too scary a thought, alternatives to doing the speech. Or, even better, how to make the situation more comfortable so you can do it, e.g. give the presentation in private.
6. Quitters never win
For some, the presentation is just too much of a hurdle to overcome at this point. However, you will never overcome hurdles unless you tackle them. Trust me, the feeling of skipping a presentation is not a good one. I regretted it, and felt even worse than I did when nervous.
7. Fear is fine
We all get scared at some point. If it’s not spiders it’s heights. If it’s not heights it’s germs. If it’s not germs it’s public speaking. Fear is fine. Fear is ‘normal’. Nobody is fearless. Remember that when it’s time to give your presentation. Look around the room and you’ll hear others venting their nerves. You’ll see others feeling down over having to give a presentation in front of the class.
8. Audience participation
Try and get your audience involved. As I said before, listening to someone go on and on and on and on about a topic can start to drag, so maintain your audience’s attention by asking questions, especially the rhetorical kind. The questions carry your audience’s attention beyond the presentation, so they’ll keep thinking about what you have said after you have finished. Once again, your superior will be very impressed. IMPORTANT: Some superiors will expect you to answer the question if no one else can. Besides, it’s not fair to expect others to answer a question you cannot answer yourself. Keep that mind when you decide what to ask.
9. Arrive early
Arrive early and set up your equipment. This is better on the nerves than turning up late and having to walk across a room full of people with their eyes on you. Early birds have time to calm their nerves before starting proceedings, and you can look over your notes before you begin. As people enter the room, practise making eye contact.
10. Buzz of success
Whenever you complete a task you’ve dreaded for weeks, the buzz is amazing! You’re so proud of yourself and happy that the situation has passed. You wonder what you had to be nervous about, and this new found confidence carries over to the next presentation. Picture this buzz when the nerves sneak in. This buzz only comes when the presentation ends, so keep that in mind when you want to quit.
These points have been based on feedback I received from examiners over the years, so keep a note of them all. Only doing one of them increased my grade from an A to an A*, and doing them all has sustained my high level public speaking since school. I am far from being an extrovert/social butterfly, showing that even the quiet ones can achieve public speaking success.