Presenting at the ASHA Convention in Orlando this year? Giving a lunch-and-learn for the hospital staff? Got an upcoming workshop for parents in your community? As a speech-language pathologist and professional speaker, I understand our focus is often on speech, language, words, and content.
But seriously, stop worrying about your PowerPoint and your script. No one will know if you forgot to say something you rehearsed 100 times, and audiences forgive glitches. It’s all going to be OK.
Still nervous? Then try these tips covering everything but your words to make your next presentation one of your best:
- Bring your own cup with a lid and straw. There’s nothing more awkward than trying to keep the flow going, only to stop, twist the top off a water bottle and take a quick chug while still trying to maintain eye contact with your audience. Water pitchers with open cups are a major spill waiting to happen. Instead, bring your own cup—preferably insulated to keep surfaces and hands dry—but grabbing a paper cup with a lid and hollow stir-stick for a quick sip will do in a pinch.
- When an audience member asks a question and you need a moment to form an answer, pause, and take a sip of water. Works every time, even if your reply is a calm, “I am not sure, but I’m happy to get back to you.” Not a thing wrong with admitting what you don’t know. This isn’t the Praxis—no need to guess!
- Make sure there’s room to roam. Ask in advance for a lavaliere (lapel) mic—especially if your presentation lasts more than two hours. You engage your audience better if you can move around and use body language to connect. A podium blocks most of your body and you don’t want to be a talking head.
- See that row of chairs directly in front of you? Ask to move the entire front row to the back of the room. Whenever possible, allow for six to eight feet from the podium to the front row. It gives you a chance to move and allows you to make eye contact with everyone in the audience. Eye contact is everything. When chairs or tables are too close, anyone in the front row tends to avoid looking at you, because it’s intimidating.
- Are those two chatty people in the back row whispering too much? (Let’s be real, it happens.) They might be oblivious, but don’t let it go on too long. Casually wander over and stand behind the talkers. Keep presenting. Stay there until they get the hint. It’s a subtle way to take back control of your presentation.
- Take your breaks when doing a full-day workshop. People will want to ask questions, but you need to rest your voice and just breathe. I typically brush my teeth just to perk myself back up, but also to stop and repeat a daily affirmation á la Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live: “I’m going to give a terrific presentation, and I’m going to help people … because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” OK, I don’t do that exactly. The point? Take your break and be nice to yourself.
- Bring a second pair of shoes. For longer presentations, I keep a pair of lightweight tennis shoes in my big bag of tricks. Throw a shower cap on each shoe to keep your bag clean. During lunch, I don my comfy shoes so I can take a quick walk to feel refreshed for the afternoon, or just to give my feet a break if we all head out to eat together.
- Cue up your playlist. I listen to music on earbuds until minutes before being introduced. Confession: It’s likely something cheesy like Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” (Now my secret is out.) Those two minutes of listening to a favorite song clears my head so I’m ready to focus on the upcoming content.
- Don’t allow fidgets. I once spoke to 50 occupational therapists packed into a tiny room, breaking all my rules about having room to roam and moving back that first row of tables. The organizer passed out squishy caterpillars and light-up squeeze balls. For the next eight hours, I tried not lose my train of thought while the entire audience twirled 50 caterpillars or repeatedly squeezed the balls to blink, blink, blink, nonstop, all day. Yep, that happened.
- Approach the event like hosting a party. Welcome everyone, make sure they’re comfortable, and start the chit-chat. Your energy in the first few minutes sets the tone for the rest of the presentation or workshop. Pretend everyone has a glass of wine. It’s much more pleasant than imagining everyone in their underwear.
And remember—you got this!
Have a question or favorite tip about public speaking? Share in the comment section below.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an author and speaker on topics including feeding disorders, picky eating, and parenting. She will present at the 2019 ASHA Convention with Jennifer Kazmerski, MD, on “Understanding Pediatric Anxiety & Feeding Disorders: The Missing Link for SLPs,” on Thursday, Nov. 21, at 10:30 a.m. She is also presenting with Krisi Brackett, MS, CCC-SLP, on “Opposites Attract: A Marriage of Sensory & Behavioral Strategies in Feeding Therapy,” on Friday, Nov. 22, at 3:30 p.m. See the convention planner for more information. mymunchbug.com/contact-us