Control to a presenter is much like money to a gambler.
It’s difficult to gain and very easy to lose.
Losing control leads to a loss of confidence during a speech.
Control gives us confidence.
Here are three ways to lose control, and three ways to regain it during your speech.
An audience craves interaction.
They love feeling involved in the speech, and naturally, we aim to quench that thirst by asking a question.
But what happens when you receive the wrong answer?
A colleague of mine attended a public speaking event at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh a few years ago.
The presenter stood up and began an anecdote in his speech:
“I used to go out with a girl whose Dad owned a pub.
You sir in the front row, wouldn’t that be great?”
The answer came back:
“No, I’m an alcoholic”
Cue the loss of confidence and the presentation spiralling out of control.
Every joke has a victim.
If someone in the audience is offended, that’s a problem.
If that victim is someone in your audience – that’s an even bigger problem.
Just ask Gerald Ratner, whose company went bust after he joked about the quality of its jewellery during a speech.
People often use the joke as a way to tell the audience
“I’m nervous, so bear with me”.
That can take the form of
“well that’s a hard act to follow” or
If you say these things in your speech, you may get some polite titters.
In reality, you’re lowering the audience’s expectations.
Better to focus on what’s in it for them instead.
The PowerPoint fails to open.
The microphone breaks.
That video clip you’ve just introduced has decided not to open.
An awkward silence lingers as you fiddle with the equipment, knowing deep down you’ve lost it forever.
Mostly that’s down to a lack of preparation.
It’s happened to me – the microphone failing during an investment pitch.
I asked for technical assistance, before realising it had been working all along.
Cue awkward moans from the table next to me, and a feeling of spiralling out of control.
Why did it happen?
Because I failed to attend the venue before my speech to test the audio.
If I had, I would have known exactly how it sounded.
The only sure-fire way to get your audience on your side is to sum up what’s in it for them straight away.
“Let me tell you how I believe I can save you over £1000 every year”
Stories can work even better, though they are more subjective, and must have a relevant point.
Consider your audience fully.
Tell them immediately, before you even introduce yourself, why they should listen to you.
Take a complete form of your speech, with cue cards.
If the PowerPoint fails, you’re going to have to look people in the eye.
(Which we believe you should be doing anyway).
But at least now you have notes, which you’ve practised using by themselves.
This is most important at the beginning and the end of your speech.
Telling your audience
“I’m going to take questions at the end” or
“please raise your hand at any time if you’d like me to go over a point again”
puts people at ease.
At the end, make sure you give a clear Call to Action.
That can be a question, an instruction or a clear message.
Either way, they need to know what to do next.
If all else fails, call a break.
Written by Andrew McFarlan, the Managing Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.
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