One of the most important traits in great leaders is the ability to communicate effectively and clearly, regardless of who your audience is. This includes having a knack for delivering impactful presentations, whether that's on a stage in front of several hundred people, in a board meeting or to a group of staffers. It's a particularly important requirement for CIOs who often have to speak to a diverse set of audiences.
Let's face it, some people simply have a gift for public speaking. There are certain presenters who dazzle, others who stimulate or provoke and still others who move us with their stories and experiences.
But for most of us, public speaking is stressful. We worry about making mistakes, or not being able to engage our audiences or to provide listeners with meaningful content or messages.
From my own experiences and from other speakers whom I admire and have learned from, here are 5 tips for making the most of your public speaking opportunities:
1. Know Your Audience. Before you step onto a stage or into a conference room, know who you're speaking to and try to understand what messages or information matters most to them. If you're speaking at a conference, grill the conference coordinators for information about the makeup of the audience. For instance, will I be speaking in a breakout session to 25 to 30 PMO directors? Or will I be addressing 500 IT procurement managers?
2. Know Your Content. Be prepared that any points you may raise during a presentation may generate questions from a member of your audience who is seeking more specifics. While you shouldn't feel obligated to divulge proprietary information about your organization, it helps to be prepared for all types of questions that may arise. Also, while it helps to support your presentation with research findings and other statistics, don't go overboard. Not only do people not want to hear a laundry list of numbers, but they'll become confused and distracted if you throw out too many figures at once.
3. Be Yourself. Just as everyone has their own unique personality, every presenter also has their own presentation style. Sometimes it takes multiple speaking appearances to determine what style works best for you. A friend of mine who is a regular speaker at IT management conferences has a frenetic, fast-paced approach that many attendees find charming, engaging and downright funny. I also find him to be a delightful speaker, but that's not my style and I'm not going to attempt to force fit it. You have to find a manner that works both for you and for your audience. Don't be afraid to experiment a little. And don't psyche yourself out prior to your presentation. Your audience isn't expecting Jack Welch or Bill Clinton.
4. Interact With Your Audience. This doesn't mean you have to try to come off like a stand-up comic. But I find that audiences typically engage more with speakers who talk to them and not at them. Stop occasionally during your presentation and ask your audience questions. For instance, "By a show of hands, how many of you have struggled with this challenge or related issues within the past year?" Listen carefully to questions posed by members of the audience and try to respond thoughtfully.
5. Do a Post Mortem. Years ago, following one of my first conference presentations, the conference organizer sent us each an audio copy of our respective presentations. Upon listening to it, I was mortified to discover how often I strung together sentences with long "ummms". I was determined not to repeat this and found that with each public speaking opportunity I gradually improved and felt more at ease and it came across through my presentations. It also helps to ask conference producers and peers to critique your performance. What did you like most about my presentation? What could I have done better?