The essence of public speaking or giving a presentation is leaving a lasting impression on the audience with one’s words, body language and knowledge.
My teacher always says to us, “It’s not easy standing in front of people, it’s not easy forming words standing in front of people, and it’s not easy being yourself in front of people. It’s not easy to present — but, it is not difficult either.”
My teacher had to point out the qualities needed for speaking in public in order to improve us, to prepare us for what is expected of us during the countless moments in the future when we will face an audience.
My teacher wanted to be remembered, wanted to leave an impact. He wanted each of us to become more confident or bolder. And the best way to do this was by taking our weaknesses one by one, and making each feel surmountable.
He made each of us speak in the class by summarising the chapters of Moby Dick. At the end, everyone would say what the presenter’s strengths and weaknesses were. After everyone had presented and everyone had shared their views on the presentation, it was time to reflect upon everyone’s efforts, including our own.
There have been times when I was mesmerised by certain ways some students described their chapters. And there were times when I have gotten up to criticise the presentation of others, which was the easy part. But if I were to give the presentation, I wouldn’t be able to do it any better because when you go up on stage, you become blank and forget all you prepared.
I also noticed how some students prepared scripts and acted them out. Their tones and acting was sometimes made fun of. However, each day there was something or the other that we did better. Practice made us improve and discussions made us see where improvement could be made. Eventually everyone was more at ease with speaking up in the class. But I know that when the situation would change, when we would be on a different stage, in front of a different audience, our weakness would come back and the struggle to overcome them would start again.
So what exactly are the elements required in making a good presentation? Here are some of the things I noticed during our class presentation practice sessions and I am sharing it with you all.
I noticed that people tend to absorb new things easily, but get bored of certain things quickly if it goes on for too long. So one must squeeze in something new and then stretch the topic accordingly. Of course, it is very hard not to repeat a single thing, especially when the same topic is given to a group of people.
If everyone gave and followed the same perspective, they would all give the same type of presentation. The audience would get bored easily.
So repeat it in a different
way that it seems new to the listeners. You have to keep the audience waiting for something new. Or make old and repeated things appear new by using a different prospective or approach. You can’t make an old topic new, but you can add new information to an old topic.
Intonation and gestures
There is something mystical about storytellers. They have queer ways to make people wait in suspense and hang on to each detail of the narration. Storytellers clearly have a way of making people listen to them with attention, waiting eagerly for what comes next. And often they do it with their expressions and gestures that convey as much meaning as the words they speak.
So being able to actually convey feelings while delivering your words is an important part of presentations, which involves your expressions, gestures and your tone. All these should paraphrase your storyline and keep the audience’s attention intact.
Stage fright is common. I get stage fright, as most of us do. Because everyone wants to be perfect in others’ eyes, so there is the fear that something can go wrong. Ask yourself, what’s the most that can happen if I forget, if I stutter, or if I fall?
People will make fun, that’s it. But not all will be too hard on you because most people understand stage fright. There is really nothing much to lose except a few moments of discomfort that you can easily overcome.
I was once climbing monkey bars — I know I am too old for that — and I just looked down and said to myself “If I fall, I will surely fall on my feet. What else is there to be afraid of?”
After that, I didn’t feel scared anymore and continued as I knew that the worst that could happen wasn’t so scary. It’s not about not caring what others think, it’s about not caring about what you think. You have to defeat the enemy inside you — your fear.
So when you are on the stage and facing an audience, tell yourself that the worst that can happen isn’t that bad. You need to look at your audience and ask yourself that if you were talking to one of them face-to-face, how would you talk to them? You won’t stutter and your legs won’t shake. So consider it almost the same situation and you will not find the audience as intimidating as before.
There is no rocket science
There is no rocket science behind giving any presentation. Society has just made it seem too hard. When we are assigned the task to give a presentation in front of others, we feel pressured and be overcome by anxiety. But if we simplify things to what they actually are, we will not be scared of a lot of things.
We have become tuned to considering giving presentations in a very formal way, focusing too much on each and everything until we become overwhelmed. We want to express our ideas in a bolder way, bring in colours, brightness, impressive hand gestures and a confident eye contact.
But if you forget all this and only concentrate on what you want to say to the audience and how you can do it in the way that suits you best, giving a presentation will not seem too daunting. It will become less scary. So do it the best way you can, using your natural style and that will be your best performance, much easier that following other’s tips.
The first and last thing that matters is the content in a presentation. Imagine giving this very inspirational speech, one that is supposed to put people out of their sleep and pump them up.
Jotting down all the ideas that come to mind, do some research and homework, and now shape them in an impressive, but easy to understand way. Work hard to come up with an impressive content and not just something ordinary. Your descriptions and your ideas, if written in an organised way, will leave a good impact.
Making a nice presentation and presenting it before an audience with confidence and no fear makes all the difference. So keep reminding yourself that you are doing your best and it is not a big deal if something goes a miss.
Published in Dawn, Young World, June 4th, 2022