Become an effective speaker

Speaking to an audience with authority takes skill and confidence. You may have vast knowledge on an issue, but you must be able to deliver your message with poise and assurance in order for it to resonate with your audience.

The belief that you have to be polished and flawless in order to hold the attention of your audience can be daunting, to the extent that many people will avoid giving presentations altogether, says Lucas Mattiello, public speaking trainer with Living Up Living in Vancouver.

Many people set unrealistic expectations, comparing themselves to dynamic professional speakers, Mattiello says, rather than focusing on how to improve their own skills.

Even people in positions of leadership — who know their material inside out — can lose their perspective when addressing a large audience. To help improve your public speaking skills, consider these common mistakes to avoid when delivering a presentation:

> Cramming too much content into your presentation
Some inexperienced speakers try to overload a presentation with far more information than the audience can absorb. Another common problem is spending too much time on the introduction and leaving little opportunity for audience questions at the end.

Treat your presentation as a teaser — a compelling glimpse of what you have to offer, says Lauren Ferraro, public speaking coach with Your Voice Unleashed in Toronto.

Ferraro recommends focusing on one aspect of the subject at hand, so that the audience will want to follow up with questions.

> Trying to please everyone
Don’t feel pressured to appeal to the entire audience, says Mattiello. A presentation is more memorable when you’re “unapologetically authentic” and unafraid to be polarizing.

Mattiello embraces the 20/20/60 rule: 20% of the audience already loves you, 20% will grow to hate you and the majority, 60%, are still on the fence. Once you accept that it’s impossible to win over the entire audience, it becomes easier to stay true to who you are.

> Not setting a clear objective
It’s not enough to have grand ideas and powerful insights to offer your clients. Unless you determine the presentation’s overall objective and the characteristics of the audience you’re trying to reach, Ferraro says, your message may not have the desired impact.

List the things you want your audience to understand when shaping your presentation, Mattiello says. You have to know your audience well enough to provide meaningful information, expressed in terms they can relate to.

“Throughout your speech, you have to have tactics, ways of persuading,” Ferraro says.

Use analogies and action words to illustrate your points. And steer clear of technical details that are hard to follow.

This is the first part in a two-part series on public speaking. Next: Refining your speaking skills.

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