I've recently been doing a lot of public speaking at work; my role at Monster has developed into one where I represent the company not only to media and on speaker panels, but also in customer presentations (at which I discuss trends in recruiting and so on). At these presentations, it's just me, some slides, and between 50 and 100 people ready to listen to me for an hour or more.
Among my friends, I've been calling these presentations "The Charles Purdy Show." In August, the Charles Purdy show has run in Austin, Texas; Davenport, Iowa; and Santa Clara, California—next week, the show goes on the road again, and I'll be appearing in Lincoln, Nebraska.
There's lots of advice on public speaking out there on the Web, and I've read some of it. (Public speaking didn't come naturally to me—I'm actually very shy.) But I've come up with some "secrets" of my own in the past few months. I thought I'd share them.
1. Show up early and meet attendees. The more audience members I meet before the presentation, the better the presentation goes. I like to stand by the registration table or just walk around and introduce myself as the speaker. If you want people to ask questions or otherwise participate, telling them this, individually when you introduce yourself, is very helpful.
2. Find a friend. This is something standup comics do all the time, and I find that it really warms up an audience—comics often single out someone in the audience and talk to him or her directly throughout a performance.
Here's an example of how I do it: One of my presentations is on attracting and retaining Generation Y workers. At the start of the presentation, I ask people to raise their hands if they were born in 1989 or 1990 (and I widen the range until at least one person has raised a hand). When I have one or two people, I ask their names and nominate them as "Gen Y representatives." Throughout the rest of the presentation, I either reference them or ask them direct questions. (For instance, after I find a Gen Y-er named Lauren, when I then mention a negative stereotype of this generation, I say "No offense, Lauren." And when I show a slide that talks about Gen Y's values, I ask, "Would you agree with this, Lauren?") Don't overdo it—but connecting with one audience member can help you connect to the whole audience.
3. Flub your lines. Just once or twice, near the beginning of your presentation but after you feel you've established yourself as an authority, make a minor mistake—something you can laugh about. I swear this works! People don't like presenters that are too polished and perfect, and bouncing back from a flub shows that you are not just a "presenting automaton" but rather are in the moment and responsive to your environment. (And being in the moment is key to great presenting!)
You may not be able to make misspeaking seem genuine (and if you feel you can't, then don't try it), but what about, say, "accidentally" repeating a slide and making a self-deprecating joke? I did this for real once—and discovered that it works.
(Along these lines, you should never be reading during a presentation if you can avoid it. Use an outline for notes, but reading makes eye contact impossible.)
4. Give people your contact information first. I always begin presentations with my email address—and tell people that I will send them a copy of the slides (if I can) and that I'll answer questions. This releases people from the bondage of note-taking and also lets me represent myself in a friendly way.
5. Don't picture the audience in their underwear. I don't know how this became a touchstone of public-speaking advice—I think it's terrible. I, instead, concentrate on why they came to hear me speak. I think of how my presentation will help them in their jobs. And I picture them happy (and fully dressed). I consciously repeat to myself, "I like these people"—I find that this makes me smile more and remain more open-minded.
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