Addressing an audience is a key business skill, yet many of us secretly lack
confidence in this area. Simon Kent
listens to our readers’ top tips and worst nighmares
An amazing 84 per cent of British business people rate public speaking as a
daunting activity, according to a survey by the Aziz Corporation.
So, can you get through that big presentation to the board?
How do you stand up in front of hundreds of people from your profession and
talk, certain in the knowledge that your audience is interested and impressed
by what you have to say? Do you grab a stiff drink, or counteract your nerves
by imagining your audience naked?
Below, we ask people who stand up in front of an audience practically every
day to share their top tips for ensuring successful presentations.
Head of training, Inland Revenue
Many of the speeches I have had to make are impromptu. However, I have
always previously researched my audience, subject and theme.
I often begin by recognising achievements of members of the audience or a
local success, linked to the subject wherever possible.
Throughout the speech, I maintain eye contact and emphasise my points with
gestures and positive body language. My final advice would be to end the speech
on a high note with an inspirational message.
Management training manager, Bank of Scotland
As a management training and development manager, I am very familiar with
standing in front of both small and large audiences, but this can never remove
the nerves that occasionally appear, despite being a professional. My tactics
are always to ask myself, "Why am I saying this?" and "Why
should my audience listen?"
I also suggest that you know your first and closing sentences well to ensure
a strong first and last impression.
Vice-president head of human resources, Credit Suisse (Guernsey)
You can lose track of your structure, stumble over the odd word, or let your
nerves show at the outset, but if you establish a good rapport with the
audience, you will win them over.
My main tips are to stand still with good posture, look and smile at your
audience and breathe out before you start to speak.
Avoid the "fig leaf" position – standing with your hands folded in
front of the body. If you look defensive, the audience will doubt your
credibility and sincerity.
Use technique to keep people’s interest. Lower your voice and make the tone
intimate when saying something really important, and use pauses to build
Manager of people development, Asda House, Asda
I think the old adage that failing to prepare is like preparing to fail is
very true. You should understand your audience as well as the subject and
content of your presentation.
You need to understand your audience’s presentation preferences. There might
be someone who’s a big picture person, in which case you will present to them
in a totally different way than for someone who’s interested in the details.
Clearly you can’t always do this for large audiences.
One thing for me is recognising that if you are good, you’re bound to be
nervous. If you’re not nervous, you should start worrying, because nerves
sharpen your mindset.
Acknowledging the fact that you are frightened is quite a good thing, but
you should always remember that you are the expert on your subject.
European learning and development director, Kimberley-Clarke
When you stand up in front of a big audience, you should say a lot about a
little. Don’t say a little about a lot. It’s very tempting to start by saying
there are 16 major points you want to raise, and it might be good stuff, but
your audience will never retain that information.
I also use show and tell. With big speeches you often feel trapped behind
the lectern, and the soft lighting can put people to sleep, so I try to animate
it by putting variety into my speech. This can mean anything from video clips
to quizzes – I once used the Who Wants to Be A Millionaire approach to ask my
audience about our European business.
Variety is the spice of life, and the more you can use it the better.