A Time Management Article by Harold Taylor

If you present time management keynotes or other presentations, how you deliver the material is almost as important as the content. You want to keep the group’s attention and ensure that learning is taking place. Here are some suggestions based on my experiences.

Overcome stage fright.

It’s natural to be a little anxious. Experiencing a little stage fright every time we appear before a group is normal. In fact, it’s desirable; it helps us to do our best. We are naturally concerned about how we will come across, and we want to do a good job. A little stress never hurt anyone — especially when we can work it off through the activity of delivering a talk or making a presentation. But we should never allow our stage fright to become out-and-out fear. It not only disrupts the talk, but it also disrupts the audience, as well. If we are nervous, they are nervous. It is contagious.

To keep stage fright under control, concentrate on your message, not on yourself. Talking to five, ten or fifty people is no different from talking to one or two — except for having to talk a little louder. We would have no difficulty jumping a four-foot-wide stream, but a similar gap thousands of feet high on a mountain cliff can immobilize us with fear if we allow ourselves to think of the height. So, don’t. Concentrate on the jump — or the speech.

The more familiar you are with your material, the less prone you will be to getting stage fright. The biggest fault of many accomplished speakers is that they get lazy. They feel they no longer must prepare, and their lack of preparation is usually obvious. If you are not an accomplished speaker, it is even more important to spend ample time in preparation. Lack of preparation aggravates stage fright. You should always know more about your topic than you will ever have time to tell.

Organize your talk.

Every presentation should have an objective. Write it down. Are you trying to inform, persuade or entertain? Have an outline or plan. Every presentation has an introduction (which should be flexible), a body and a conclusion.

The conclusion is usually more definite — even memorized in some cases. But don’t memorize the whole presentation. Write it out; read it to yourself; be familiar with the ideas; but do not memorize it. Memorized presentations are not spontaneous. They become a performance. An act. You appear to be talking at your audience, not with them.

The same thing applies to reading a speech. If you must read a speech, be familiar enough with your material that you can look around leisurely and comfortably, imitating “first-time utterance.”

 Rehearse it to perfect your timing, pauses, inflections and change of pace. A better method than reading the speech or memorizing it in its entirety is to write it out, give each new idea a heading and memorize the headings or key words of each heading. And it is OK to do this when you are just getting started as a speaker. But professional speakers do not have to memorize cue cards. They are so familiar with their material that they present it as though they were having a conversation with a group of friends.

 Give it your best shot.

One of the biggest problems for beginning speakers is the use of the pause. They seem to be afraid of silence. Do not tear right into your presentation. Pause a moment to look at the audience and begin with a sentence that indicates you are aware they are there. Be enthusiastic.

 Enjoy yourself. Exude confidence. Do not fidget or pace. Speak naturally but with enough volume that everyone can hear you. Gesture if it is natural to you. In fact, the key to a successful presentation is being natural in your delivery. Do not try to be a comedian — unless you are one.

Humor must be relevant. Avoid hackneyed expressions, jargon, and pompous words. Everyone loves sincerity and hates a phony. Just be yourself. And make your ending neat and prompt. It’s better for an audience to think “What? It’s over so soon?” than “My word, is he never going to quit?”

When making a presentation, adhere to the rules of good public speaking. Think before you speak, get attention with your opening remarks and get right to the point. Follow up your initial summary with supporting information and close with a powerful statement designed to obtain agreement or initiate action. Don’t hog the floor. If there is a time limit, stay within the allotted time. If there are no time restrictions, remember it is better to be brief than sorry.

If you feel uncomfortable on your feet, do not let it worry you. No one is born with a golden tongue. Practice will calm the butterflies and enable you to speak clearly, concisely, and convincingly. In the meantime, avoid the simple mistakes made by some of the best speakers, and you will come across simply fine.

Do not rush into your presentation and don’t rush away from it at the end. Stay put until you have delivered the punch line before making any motion to pick up your cue cards and flee to your seat. Don’t mumble; take your time, even though you feel like racing, and eliminate those maddening “ums,” “ahs,” and “you knows.”

 I used to say “you know” a dozen times in a speech. And I used to use the phrase “that type of thing” a lot. I asked my wife to sit at the back of the room and draw any flaws to my attention. I recommend you get someone you can rely on to act as your critic. I also recommend you record all your sessions and listen to it later with a critical ear.

 You may feel nervous, awkward, or frightened, but you need not project those feelings to your audience. Smile, force yourself to gain eye contact with everyone and don’t jiggle change, rattle bracelets, bury your head in your notes or slouch over the back of a chair. When responding to questions, take your time. If necessary, ask for the question to be repeated while you formulate your reply. When you answer a controversial question do not fix your eyes on the questioner; it could lead to a one-on-one argument. Deliver your reply to the entire audience.

 Although practice makes perfect, your current activity as a speaker may not allow much practice. If you are never called upon to make a presentation, seek other opportunities to get experience. Join Toastmasters or a few associations. Volunteer to introduce or thank the speaker. Get involved as a committee chairperson whose job it is to report at annual meetings. Seek out opportunities to practice. One day when you least expect it, you may be called upon to make that presentation that could accelerate your career. Be ready for it.


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