Five Tips for Presenting to an Audience

Oh heck, I might have to make a speech! I may be called upon to make a speech about teaching effective essay writing skills at an education conference. You’d think that, as a teacher, getting up in front of people and talking would be easy. It is, when the people are teenagers. However, when you are addressing a whole bunch of your peers at an official conference, things are a lot more daunting. Anyway, I thought I'd put together five tips for a decent presentation.

-Know your audience. This is the most important part of any presentation. Are you speaking to people who are likely to agree with you or are you going to have to deal with some disagreement too? If you’re unsure, plan for people to challenge. Think about potential problems and solutions you can offer if anyone raises them. 

-Think about your purpose. If you want to win people over to your way of thinking, you need to win hearts as well as minds. Speaking at a formal event does not mean you have to be cold or unfriendly. The fact that people might disagree with some of what you say shouldn’t mean that you start on the defensive. Expect to win them over to help you deal with any anxiety. If you’ve prepared well enough, you will do. You’re there because you know what you’re talking about so trust yourself.

-Don’t take deep breaths! That might sound odd but actually, breathing in deeply increases your heart rate and makes you more inclined to panic, not less. Instead, breathe normally. You might want to exhale a bit more strongly and that’s ok. Imagine yourself blowing the stress gently away. Keep your in-breath shorter.

-Watch other speakers. Notice the tone that they adopt. It might be a formal speech but the good ones are also friendly and use gentle, inoffensive humour to help win people over, particularly at the opening of their speech. You do not have to be a comedian and you probably shouldn’t try. You can be a bit self-deprecating but don’t say anything to undermine how qualified you are to talk about your subject. You’re an expert on that and your audience need to trust you. 

-Have one key argument and don’t include anything that contradicts it or is inconsistent. A good way to ensure this is to have a kind of thesis statement or a key aim of your speech. For example, your main aim might be that you want to convince people to invest in x or spend more money on y. Or it might be that you have a specific creative purpose. Test everything you’re planning to say against that one key idea that will run all the way through your speech. If it all holds up, you’re going to be fine.

There. I’m going to try and follow this if I am called upon to speak at next year’s teaching conference. Wish me luck.

Thanks for reading,

Zoe x