Five steps to confident communication

By Jon TorrensWhen it comes to giving any kind of talk or presentation, there are lots of different areas you can work on. To help you speak with confidence, here is some of my infinite wisdom, boiled down into five simple steps.

Jon Torrens

Although they are presented in chronological order, some of the steps (the first and third ones in particular) are massive, ongoing processes, to be developed along your journey towards true speaking confidence. Others (such as ‘Say thank you’) are easy, practical things which I believe you should do every time* you deliver any talk.

I learnt these techniques from performing stand up comedy (part-time for about ten years, and full-time for about two years). I gave it up a long time ago, but these techniques are the foundation of my training and speaking.

* Well, if you want to give yourself the best chance of success, that is.

So: read, digest, and put it all into action!

  1. Write and Rehearse

As with most things, the best way to improve your writing is simply to practise the act of writing. Note down ideas whenever you can, whether that's in a physical notebook, or in a memo on your phone. By keeping a record of ideas as they come to you (such as something from an overheard conversation, or something that inspired you from the news), you can build up a resource of ideas which are then really useful when you come to write a presentation. Combats the ‘blank page’ very nicely, I find.

I believe that rehearsal is the key to improving your speaking skills. When I speak to somebody who has had a bad presentation experience, it usually turns out that they didn't rehearse properly, if at all. Before any presentation or talk, I recommend that you run through the material at full pace, and at full volume, without stopping for mistakes. This will give a solid foundation that will keep you on track when you get nervous on the day itself, especially the experience of carrying on past a stumble. Too many speakers make the silly mistake of ‘running through it in their head’ and then only saying the words out loud for the first time on the day itself. Please don’t do that. Take every opportunity you can to speak in front of people. Speaking confidence is a muscle which needs to be exercised and developed.

  1. Get Your Head Straight

Easier said than done, eh?

The biggest opponent when speaking in front of a group is probably you, telling yourself negative stories and reminding yourself of weaknesses and flaws. The successful speaker shows that they trust themselves.

While writing and practice are essential for your speaking confidence, just as important is your own self-acceptance. Consider all your flaws and see how unimportant they are. Own your weaknesses. Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”  

While your instinctive reaction to having to speak in front of a group may be panic, you must remind yourself of the facts: you know your subject (otherwise you wouldn't have been asked to speak about it) and the audience wants you to do well.  What I believe is far more useful and realistic is to remind yourself of your strengths, and the fact that this is a subject that you know inside out and that (possibly) you really like. Remind yourself that you’ve put in the work (if you haven’t, then sorry, I can’t help you. You’re on your own!).

Make sure you’re ready well in advance. Take a moment. Then begin. Deep breaths. Accept yourself. Remember that the audience is on your side. Aim to be calm, with an ego-less sense of humour. You're just going to talk about your specialist subject.

  1. Start Big

Grab their attention! Start with performance: smile, make eye contact and state who you are, why you’re there and what’s going to happen. The main thing is: go large. The first minute or so forms the audience’s opinion about whether you’re worth listening to, so if you don’t look happy and don’t hit them with something juicy/funny/intriguing, then they may well start checking Twitter or Instagram before you’ve even got going. I believe that you should show that you’re interested in them; you’re (relatively) excited to share your idea and message with them, and you want to provide some value, not just ‘give a talk.’

When speaking in person, keep everyone ‘topped up’ with eye contact. When speaking online, look at the camera as much as you can. Make eye contact, smile, and declare your intention. Start with your strongest material. If speaking in person, try turning your energy and volume up by about 20%.

  1. Be Conversational

Don’t think ‘presentation’. Think ‘conversation’.

Being conversational achieves two rather wonderful things:

1.            It makes your talk easier to take in – a big plus for your audience.

2.            It makes your talk easier to deliver – a big plus for you.

Don’t try to impress your audience with elegant verbosity, or worse, a large volume of material. Speak to them. Think of it as a rehearsal, without pressure, where it doesn’t matter if you trip over a word or forget something. Don’t have a perfect script; rehearse, use keywords and re-word it a little each time to keep it interesting for you. Throw in a few spontaneous bits. Have fun. Have a conversation.

No jargon, TLAs* or flowery eloquence in an attempt to impress. Be authentic, honest, and polite. The best talks I've seen felt natural and easy to listen to.

* Three Letter Acronyms. FYI, I find them really annoying.

  1. Keep It Concise.

No-one ever said: “Oh, I wish that presentation had gone on for a bit longer."

Bloated meetings frustrate people. Long emails get ignored. Do everyone a favour and get to the point. As quickly as possible, please. See? Simple. Get to the good stuff. No filler. Your audience will appreciate your brevity.

Oh, and one last thing: develop these techniques by putting them into practice whenever you can.

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