Answers to 7 Common Questions About Public Speaking

Questions About Public SpeakingAs I prepare for the launch of my new book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins, I’ve been thinking about the most common questions audiences ask me about public speaking. Here are my answers, along with links to further reading —here on the blog and elsewhere.

1. Which is More Important—Content or Delivery?

They’re both important—probably equally so. Content and delivery go hand-in-hand. If your performance is terrible, even the best material will be lost on the audience. And if you’re just trafficking in a bunch of hollow platitudes and “motivational” nonsense, your audience will eventually see there’s “no there there.” So focus on both. And ignore anyone who tells you that “93% of communication is nonverbal.”

2. How Can I Be Better Prepared to Speak Off the Cuff?

I believe everybody should take an improv class. In my classes at Second City, we had lawyers, accountants, cops, students, retirees—people from all walks of life seeking to have fun and improve themselves.  Improv will help you learn to think on your feet, let go of your internal editor, get over performance anxiety, make connections you might not otherwise see, build on ideas, be more constructive and become a better listener. Google “improv classes”—there’s bound to be a theater troupe, community college or comedy club in your area that offers lessons.

3. How Do I Address a Hostile Group?

First, you need to understand them. Find out as much as you can about their issues and concerns. Then address those concerns head on without waffling or a bunch of business babble. Show understanding and empathy, find a story that connects with their values, accept responsibility if you’re at fault, and be specific about how to solve things.

4. How Do I Deal with Stage Fright?

Stage fright is equal parts mental and physical. On the mental side, prepare, prepare, prepare. The more you know your material, the more poised you’ll be. On the physical side, warm up your body: stretch your muscles, get the blood flowing and breathe. Here are 10 pointers.

5. How Do I Make a Webinar or Conference Call More Lively?

Webinars and teleconferences magnify a speaker’s worst flaws, so you have to work extra hard. Increase your energy, quicken your pace, raise the volume, sit (or stand) up straight, create better visuals, tell better stories. Everything has to be on 11. Check out my 10 tips for giving a riveting webinar.

6. How Do I Overcome a Tendency to Say “Um” and “Uh?”

I’ve never been to Toastmasters, but I understand that they tally all yours ums and ahs. I suppose that might be useful if you tend to put one in every sentence. But I’d rather people focus instead on delivering great content with passion, enthusiasm and energy. Human beings occasionally stumble, stutter and hesitate. It’s natural, and presuming your audience is human, they’ll respond positively to a fellow member of the species. In fact, studies show that these verbal stumbles actually strengthen your credibility as a speaker.

7. How Should I Coordinate a Presentation by Multiple People?

If you want to be viewed as a cohesive group that knows what it’s doing, you need to practice as a group. A client of mine actually schedules table reads for their executives in the weeks leading up to a big meeting. It helps them coordinate their messages and reduce overlap. Group presentations also require clear roles, careful listening, smooth transitions and genuine chemistry. Here are my six tips for presenting as a group.

Any Questions?

There are certainly others, but these are the most common questions about public speaking that come up. As I roll out the book and do more presentations, I’ll add to this list in future posts.

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