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How can I become a better presenter and speaker?

I am a fairly new manager and I have found that I am increasingly called on to speak. I struggle with it. Do you have any suggestions for getting my nervousness under control?

N. N.

A manager wears many hats. Unfortunately, one of the most uncomfortable falls under the category of “speaking.” The ability to speak well is an essential component to running a business or department and something that leaders need to spend more time learning to do well. There are a few things you might want to do prior to a speaking opportunity or meeting to help you be more organized and prepared. When you are prepared, it will help cut down on the stress and should help you to feel more comfortable. The preparation will relieve some of your nervousness and will help you come across better in your presentation.

  • Have a clear objective for the presentation. Is it for information only or are you trying to introduce a new process or procedure? Are you seeking buy-in from the attendees or just imposing a new rule? Know at the start how you want the session to end.

  • For a meeting, prepare an agenda prior to the meeting, and be ready to give this to all attendees. This will let everyone know ahead of time what will be covered. It will help keep the interruptions to a minimum since they will know they can ask questions at the appropriate time, rather than just bringing them up randomly and throwing you off your plan.

  • Allocate time to each of the agenda items. Having the agenda prepared ahead of time will help keep you on track so that your meeting will have better flow and continuity.

  • Organize your thoughts and prepare notes on your presentation. In particular, write out your introduction and an ending. The major problem with most meetings is getting it started smoothly, especially if you are nervous. The prepared introduction will help take away any jitters. A prepared ending will ensure that you will do a nice job of summing up the session. It will help guarantee that you will capture all of your final thoughts, and keep you from rambling on to come up with a sufficient close. It clearly should restate the objectives you originally set. But once you prepare your notes, use them only for reference. Do not just read them!

  • Create visuals or handouts when appropriate. You may even want to use overheads, audios or videos to help make your information more clear or understandable. Visuals or handouts may also help keep the attention of the attendees. Just be aware that in some cases using a visual may have the reverse response and entice the audience to actually become bored or even nod off.

  • When presenting, always remember to make eye contact. There is nothing worse than watching a leader trying to make a strong point and not making eye contact with anyone while saying it. The message definitely loses its punch. Look around the room to ensure you are getting contact with everyone and not just one person.

  • Get hyped up when appropriate. Summon the passion that you feel in order to make your words convincing. If you are announcing something fun or exciting, present it like it is fun. If it is something serious in nature and needs that kind of emotion, then treat it that way. Humdrum messages produce humdrum results.

  • While going through the session, make sure you get to the point quickly on each of the topics. There is nothing worse for an audience that is trying to pay attention, but is having trouble staying with the concept, because the speaker takes forever to get to the point. This is a sure-fire way to lose your audience fast.

  • Inject humor if, and only if, it is appropriate. Many times humor is used only to relieve the tension of the speaker and is inappropriate or just not funny. In either case, if humor is not used fittingly, it will take away the credibility of the speaker. Another sure way to lose your audience.

Each of your presentations should be professional, organized and well thought out. If you take the time to prepare in advance, it will add to your credibility, thereby creating better results. Taking the time to develop your speaking skills will definitely benefit your business success.

Debra Thompson is President of TG & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in Human Resources for the Graphics Industry. Contact Debra toll free at 877-842-7762 or Visit to sign up for The Communicator, a free monthly email newsletter.

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