Unlike most professions, architects are fairly accustomed to standing up in front of a group of people and publicly speaking … but that doesn’t mean they like it (or even worse) – that they are any good at doing it. The concern going through almost everyone’s head before they get up in front of a group is that they will look stupid, sound stupid, or generally come across as someone who shouldn’t be talking about whatever it is they are talking about. If that’s you, the good news is that you are not alone.
I consider myself many things, most of which I should be medicated and seeing a licensed therapist about, but public speaking isn’t something that I struggle with. There are a few tips and techniques I have picked up along the way that have made the process a lot easier for me and I thought I would share them with you today. Regardless of the number of people you need to address, knowing just a few things can virtually guarantee that you will look like you should be there.
- Try and be comfortable in your own body. If you aren’t a suit and tie person, don’t pick presentation day to change.
- Movement is important. Too often a prop (like a lectern) is available and the impulse to stand behind it and lock your hands down with a Klingon death grip on the sides. Resist!! At the very least, stand to the side a bit so that you can take advantage of our natural impulse to gesticulate with our hands.
- Identify to yourself the objective of your presentation – what’s your big idea. Figuring this out can help guide you when trying to determine if you are on the right track.
- Tell a story. This is really important because if you want people to listen (and that’s sort of the point) give them something to connect with. This might be difficult for some people but since I am already prone to hyperbole, I try to make this a strength. Telling a story personalizes the information and connects people to your big idea … at least that’s the intention.
Know Your Topic
- Sincerity is key when presenting, the more you know about your topic, the more believable you will be to your audience. This can be achieved by actually knowing everything there is to know but that’s a little unlikely for most people. The next best thing is to speak with conviction … you must know enough to be sincere.
- Keep your presentation focused on the areas that you are most comfortable speaking. This simply means that instead of trying to learn all 100 things about “x”, learn 10 things exceedingly well about “x” and stick to those items.
How to Present
- Which method is the best? From worst to best, I’d go with Manuscript, Memorization, Outline (PowerPoint), Extemporaneous, and then Improvisation. Nobody wants to sit in on a presentation where someone is simply reading their lines, at least I know I don’t. When you know your material so well that you can see a word and know what information you are supposed to cover, that sort of spontaneity makes for the best presentations because they have the most energy.
- Choosing a presentation format is really a function of audience size – but try to make it as interactive as possible. I normally try to ask some sort of question in the very beginning that everyone can answer. It should be a question that you can tie into your topic – before I presented at the Texas Society of Architects Convention on the Purpose of Social Media for Architects, I asked, “How many people have ever been to my site before?”. Afterward, I realized I should have asked people something far less specific like “How many people use the internet during business hours?”. Getting people to engage, even at the smallest level, really makes a difference.
- Make yourself heard – but don’t yell. Project your voice towards the back row unless you are in a huge room and you have to use a mic.
- Find the light … and then stand in that light. Pay just a little attention to how the space is lit and make sure that you are standing in the light. If people can’t see you, they can’t hear you. It really is that simple.
So despite all these straightforward tips and techniques, most people only follow a few. My biggest fear when speaking in front of a group of people falls in line with what everyone fears – sounding like an idiot (looking like an idiot I have little control over). I have come to accept that my obvious shortcomings are simply aspects of my personality and those traits don’t always find a receptive audience. I don’t want to change who I am or how I act because it wouldn’t be me and my sincerity would be lost. My personality actually trends towards public speaking pretty well because I like to tell stories and subsequently use those stories to get my point across. This manner of presenting is far more entertaining than reading facts and figures verbatim from a PowerPoint slide presentation. I do have one glaring problem or issue that I struggle with – talking too much and knowing when to get off the stage. That’s why I’ve saved these pointers for last:
Adios Muchachos (goodbye my friends)
- If you have 20 minutes allocated for your presentation, plan to fill 15 minutes. That extra 5 minutes will sometimes (unfortunately) get filled with ah’s and um’s, but since you should be working without a script, you will embellish parts and add some flourish along the way. It always happens.
- Nobody ever cares if you run short but everybody hates when you run long. Don’t. Run. Long. If it looks like that’s what’s going to happen, instead of speeding up and running through the presentation material like a jacked up Ewok, skip ahead in your material and reset so that you can maintain the conversational tone to your speaking.
There are many different resources available out there that can provide you with some additional tips and techniques – these are just the ones that I try to follow.