Talking in Front of People

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When I was in school, I hated to stand in front of my class to “present” something. I always tried to avoid speaking in front of anyone, and most of the time, I succeeded.

On my first job in an agency, I hated to talk on the phone while someone was in the room. Back then, I had no computer on my desk and the Internet had just been invented, so I had to use the phone, as I could not even write a fax without a computer.

I shared my office with two nice account directors, but I only called someone when they left the room or they were on the phone themselves, so it was loud enough in the room that they could not hear what I was saying.

This Happened Hamburg 2014

Fast forward 20 years: now I love talking in front of people. How did that happen?

As you grow older, you gain more self-confidence. I think self-confidence is the key to standing in front of an audience and talking about something.

Talking in front of people needs a lot of training, real life training. You can stand in front of your mirror and present to yourself. However, this does not really help you. You have to learn it the hard way: by presenting to others.

The more often you present to other people, the more you will learn. You will get a feeling on what works and what does not.

This Happened Hamburg 2014

It also helps to watch others present. I listened to a lot of people presenting, in real life (videos don’t really help). I tried to understand those who were entertaining. I watched the audience, when and why they were bored.

I think presenting ideas and thoughts to other people is critical for success in business life. People realize quickly if you know what you are talking about or if it is just bullshit. Besides knowing what you are talking about, however, you need to be entertaining. You have to react to your audience. Every audience is different. Is it 3 business people? Is it your banker? Is it an audience with 200 people in front of you?

This Happened Hamburg 2014

Over the years, I found out a few things that probably make one a good speaker. These are what I think are important:

  • Self confidence.
    Go up “onstage” and be self confident. Trust yourself and your knowledge. If you are anxious onstage, it won´t work. People might feel bad for you, but you will never be able to excite anyone.
  • Self irony.
    Don´t take yourself too seriously. You are not a superhero. It helps a lot if you can make fun of yourself during a presentation. This will make your presentation much more entertaining. Do you think the audience will not take you seriously if you make fun of yourself? Quite the opposite will happen. They will start listening even more closely. Get a good laugh, and the audience is yours!

This Happened Hamburg 2014

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare.
    Your presentation and what you say has to be on point. Get across one idea. One point. Something that you think is important to say. Something that the audience should remember. You can´t say too many things. Your presentation has to be built in such a way that each step takes people to that point. Know every chart. Know what you say on each chart. Always know the next chart and how to get smoothly from one chart to the next.
  • Spend time.
    You can’t do a great presentation in a few hours. You have to spend a lot of time on it to get it right. Your audience will feel the passion and time you put into your presentation.
  • Prepare even more.
    Who is your audience? What background do these people have? Are you talking in the morning or the evening? Are you talking after lunch? All this should have an influence on your presentation.
  • Make your presentation look great.
    You and your voice are the most important “tools” you have during a presentation. A great presentation that is perfectly designed is an important support.
  • Keep your presentation simple.
    Try to have not more than one thought on each chart. Less is more. Always ask yourself, “Is it simple enough? Can I make it even more simple?” Go as far as to shorten your sentences to one impactful word. Use this one word as a “hint” so that you know what you want to say. Never read exactly what is on your chart. This kills a presentation.

This Happened Hamburg 2014

  • Be entertaining.
    If you have more than five people looking at you, especially at conferences and bigger presentations, you have a huge responsibility. People are giving you their time. It is your responsibility not to waste their time. The least they can expect is an entertaining speech or presentation. Be on time! If you have 20 minutes to talk, make sure you talk for exactly 20 minutes—not25 minutes or 15 minutes. 20 minutes. Nothing is more annoying than if you have to rush at the end or steal people’s time beyond the expected ending point.
  • No excuses.
    Don´t start your presentation with an excuse. I have heard so many presentations to start with an excuse. This is bad! Don’t come up with “Sorry, I was late last night and could not finish the presentation properly”, “Sorry if the videos don’t run smooth”, or “Sorry, not sure if my battery will last long enough”. If you start with an excuse, it tells people: okay, this guy is not prepared; he does not care for his audience and he wants to get off the stage quickly. Have you heard a rock star starting his concert with an excuse? And please, never, ever ask: “Can everybody hear me?”
  • “Read” your audience.
    Try to “read” your audience while you are presenting. If something is not perceived as you expected, you can still react. Then be more serious. More funny. Make more fun of yourself. Make less fun of yourself. Move faster, move slower. Don’t just move forward blindly.
  • Enjoy.
    Once you are on stage, enjoy your time. If you don’t enjoy the presentation yourself, no one in the audience will. They feel if you feel comfortable or not.

After all these years, I enjoy talking to people. I would have never thought this would ever happen 20 years ago. It is so much fun.

It takes a lot of work, as well, and you never know in advance how people will react to your presentation and to you as a person. You have to live with this uncertainty. However, the better you prepare, the more you know you tried everything possible to give a great presentation. Once you are beyond this point, your nervousness will move away and you can get on stage with a healthy dose of tension.

There is no better reward than a huge applause from your audience!

All images photographed by Florian Bredl during “This Happened Hamburg”.

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