Having to present your paper, or chair meetings, or even answer a question during a discussion can be intimidating and make you extremely nervous. This is because we don’t want to say the wrong things, or appear un-knowledgeable, or because we feel our grasp of the language is not good enough and people might look down or laugh at us.
These would be my top 3 tips on how prepare when having to present or speak to an audience:
- MOCK Q&A: The night before, write down 10 potential questions that you think you will be asked about. Then, spend between 10-15 minutes before you sleep answering these questions ‘live’ i.e. don’t write the answers down but try to answer them off the cuff. It will force-learn you to think on your feet and test your level of preparedness. Go to sleep and let your subconscious work it out. If you are still stumped, then use the time the next morning to brush up on these “weak” areas. The best way to maintain confidence when facing a tough crowd is to know your stuff.
- CREATE ELEVATOR STATEMENTS: If your problem area is not knowing how to put a story together in your head, then try to do this every day. Pick a subject that you are very good at, set your watch to 2 minutes and then practice explaining this subject in that time frame. These are called “Elevator Statements” i.e. explaining a concept in an concise way as if you are asked about it during an elevator ride. For example, I would challenge myself to imagine that I have to explain the plot of various Final Fantasy games to a group of non-gamers. This exercise forces me to think about the game, summarize the storyline so that I capture only important points, and simplify my language so that my audience understands me. This exercise is harder than it looks. I would repeat it a few times until I am satisfied (or tired) and then try again the next day and the next day until I get it right. I use the same technique when explaining more difficult concepts like Game Theory or Maslows hierarchy of needs. Setting a time limit of 2 minutes helps me get rid of unnecessary chatter and focus only on important points.
- NUMBER THEM: Practice to think in term of numbered list. Sometimes a question has many layers and you can get flustered trying to remember them all. What I usually do is to write down key words in a numbered list. For example, if I am asked why we should open a certain project up to public tender when direct award is faster, I would write these on my notepad before I answer:
- Evaluate competitiveness – cost, time, effort. Existing vendors may pitch at price that they know we can afford; we need to check if these are fair and at market value.
- Transparency – eliminate any accusation of favoritism: contract will be awarded based on merits, not on existing relationships.
Speaking to an audience requires practice. Try these and see if the tips would help you in your next presentation.