Picturing the audience in their underwear and other tips to survive public speaking

By Sarah Bergeron @sarahbergeron

Ok, maybe it’s not exactly picturing them half dressed, but the saying holds some truth when it comes to public speaking: think about the audience.

I attended a public speaking course a few weeks back and one of the things that resonated after the class was this: the audience is thinking about themselves and not the presenter; they aren’t hoping you make it through your note cards stutter free or tell the punch line of a joke right, they are thinking ‘what am I going to get out of this?’ – So you need to be thinking the same thing too.

But how you ask? Here are a few pointers on ways to kick off a presentation and engage with the audience.  These tips can be helpful whether you are presenting year-end results to a client, leading a training session at your agency or pitching a new business prospect.
To prepare for any public speaking engagement, you first should ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What is the purpose of this presentation?
  3. What is the most effective way to open?

Starting with these prep questions will shape your entire presentation. Accurately identifying your audience will help determine the angle your presentation should take so that the audience (again, the most important people) benefits from listening to you. Once you’ve defined the audience, deciding the best way to grab their attention will be easy. Because another important thing to remember is that you have seven seconds to make an impression on your audience. Seven – that’s it. To help make the most of that small timeframe, here are a few different openers:

  • Make a startling statement that is related to the topic
    • “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 7,000 public relations firms in the United States alone.”
  • Ask a question based on needs or interest
    • “If there were an easy, fool-proof way to gain immediate feedback from a reporter on your pitch, you would be interested, wouldn’t you?”
  • Use a mystery statement
    • “There is a right way and a wrong way to pitch business press that few PR pros know about.”
  • Give them a compliment
    • “Your managers all told me about your hard work in improving your client services this past month. And what this shows about you is…”

Now I can’t tell you which one of these will work to charm the pants off your audience – that’s up to you to decide. But I can tell you that choosing one of these openers will help you set the tone and immediately build that momentum you need for the rest of the presentation. With a strong opening, the audience is more likely to pay attention to your entire presentation and even share it with others afterward. But most importantly, it starts everything off with the audience in mind and lets them know you’re there for the exact same reason they are: to give a good presentation that will benefit them.


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