You’re at lunch with a friendly coworker. Maybe you’re discussing an upcoming project, the food, or your mutual love of barefoot running shoes. Let me ask you: do you feel pressure? The weight of judgment? Fear of embarrassment? Probably not. But step in front of a large group and everything changes. According to a Gallup poll, roughly 40% of the workforce has an acute fear of public speaking. And as many as 75% experience some degree of anxiety when giving a presentation.
Oral communication is atop the list of skills employers value—but public speaking is the number one fear among individuals in the U.S. However, there’s one simple and foolproof way you can enhance your presentation skills: by treating it like a conversation.
The ability to present to a group is crucial to professional success. According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, oral communication skills were a top priority among the interviewed executives and hiring managers. Yet there always seems to be a shortage of truly effective communicators in the workforce.
This deficiency in competent public speakers exists in large part due to a misunderstanding about the nature of public speaking. To give your best presentation, you need not imagine—but realize—that you’re talking to a friend.
- Make Eye Contact. Eye contact is the most effective way to engage and interpret your audience. “Never speak to the group of people,” said professor of psychology and international lecturer Jordan Peterson to his class. “Talk to one person, and they broadcast what everyone else is thinking.” He’s right. Once you actually look people in the eye, your brain begins to register the interaction as a conversation with individuals as opposed to a performance.
- Tell Stories. Just like at happy hour, stories are a must if you want to capture and maintain attention during your presentation. Even the most data-driven audience member will appreciate a relevant anecdote about your presentation topic. It puts theory into practice, provokes emotional stimulus, and gives a respite from the cold facts and convoluted graphs.
- Start and End. Though this applies more to a professional setting, I’m sure your more talkative friends can take a hint. Locking down your lead-off and wrap-up is crucial to managing time, allowing you to take more questions and even improvise in the middle if necessary. Plus, you can avoid the dreaded, “So… yeah” ending. Fine for conversation. But for a presentation, you can do better.
Whether you’re persuading someone to try your favorite restaurant, or pitching your latest project to the team, your goal as a presenter remains the same: engage and inform to ultimately move your audience to act.