It's one of those things that, at some point or another, almost every one of us has to do. For some it can be daunting in the extreme. For a few it can be a terrifying experience. But, for others, it's as exciting as it is exhilarating. What is it? Speaking in public. Whether you're lecturing to twenty people or two thousand, there are tricks of the trade you need to learn if you're going to become a success on the lecture circuit - and, maybe, even make a career out of it, too.
"There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you."
Sir Winston Churchill, UK Prime-Minister, 1940-45 and 1951-55
Preparing to take the stage
Maybe your boss has asked you to deliver a presentation before your colleagues. Perhaps you're an author preparing to promote your first book. Or, possibly, you're in the business of self-motivation and have a mountain of ideas for those looking for help and inspiration to make it big. Whatever your background, if circumstances place you on stage in front of an audience eager to hear your words, presentation is everything.
Above all else, self-confidence and self-belief are paramount. You may not think so, but your entrance is one of the most crucial parts of your entire presentation. Walking on stage in tentative fashion is a definite no-no. Approach that podium with gusto. Stride towards it; don't shuffle cautiously and as if it's about to bite you.
And there's nothing worse than seeing a public-speaker that takes to the stage amid fumbling, stumbling and mumbling lines and pulls out of their pocket numerous crumpled pieces of paper for notes. That is most certainly not a good way to start.
What is a good way to begin is by being energetic, having an opening salvo of words that are guaranteed to capture the attention of your audience, and not hesitating. If it's appropriate to the setting and theme, perhaps crack a little joke at the start. A relaxed audience is an attentive audience.
If you can do without those bits of paper, all the better too. Making eye-contact with the people who are there to see you is far better than having your eyes glued to pencil notes on the podium.
Ensure that whatever it is you have to say, you do so with clarity and you keep it on track. Don't jump back and forth between issues to the point where you leave your audience with its collective head spinning.
Making it visual
So, you have taken to the stage, you have made your introductions and you have the audience energised, enthused and ready for what comes next. So, what does come next? Well, in addition to delivering your presentation, on-screen imagery is a vital component of ensuring that those sitting in front of you stay attentive throughout.
A finely-rehearsed, carefully-tuned and highly-polished lecture can quickly fall apart on a truly massive scale if your accompanying visuals are less than up to par. When the lights are down, the room is dark, and it's just you up on stage, you had better have something that people can look at, as well as listen to. If you don't, you may be in big trouble.
A well-crafted PowerPoint presentation that is colourful and attention-grabbing will go a long way towards ensuring a successful experience in the realm of public-speaking. And people have got to be able to see it. Drawings, photographs, charts, graphs - whatever your images might be - have got to be big. Yes, in the world of public-speaking, size does matter. If you are speaking to a large audience, you have got to deliver the goods to those at the back of the auditorium just as successfully as to those at the front.
It's all but inevitable that, during the course of your presentation, issues, questions and thoughts are going to come to the fore on the part of your audience. So, how do you deal with that? Very easily! Allow time for questions and answers when your lecture is complete. Interaction with those who have come along to listen to you can be deeply rewarding for one and all.
Not only does a post-presentation Q&A session give the audience the opportunity to raise matters that crossed their minds while you were speaking, but it also offers you the opportunity to present yourself in a slightly different - but still overwhelmingly positive - light.
First and foremost, and wherever possible, have a colleague on stand-by who can take a microphone into the crowd and, in one by one fashion, let everyone have their say. This is far easier, and much more professional, than you pointing and waving at the audience and trying to catch the attention of one specific, raised hand in a sea of dozens.
Equally significant, a Q&A section of the show creates an air of intimacy and a feeling of connection. Subtly important, it draws your audience to you and, of course, vice-versa. You're not just a figure on stage lecturing to them. You're someone who has now taken the time to interact with them. Audiences, whatever the medium, like and appreciate that.
And, if you follow the above-steps, the world - and many more successful, on-stage experiences as a public-speaker - is, as the old saying goes, your oyster!
Public-speaking as a job
Standing up and speaking before an audience need not be limited to an after-dinner speech, or a hastily-put-together update for your boss and co-workers on current industry trends. More than a few people have turned lecturing into a career.
In today's environment, the fast-paced world of business places great value on those dynamic speakers who can galvanise their staff, who can turn wannabees into can-do's, and who can offer important advice when it comes to making an average company become a towering success.
Authors have turned the genre of public-speaking to their great advantage, too. Whether the topic is their latest, best-selling sensation, or top tips on how to break into the world of book-writing, more than a few writers earn a significant percentage of their income from talking about the written word.
If you have something to say - and you think many will want to hear you say it - there are a lot of good, reputable agencies out there that can help you do exactly that.