Fighting Mr. (Brain) Freeze

Ragan recently featured a useful article on how to handle a brain freeze when you’re speaking in public. Whether you’re a CEO, manager or in the cases they presented, a political candidate, handling such an instance with grace could go a long way toward disaster control.

They use the following two video examples of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as the right and wrong ways to handle this. Although, in fairness, one wonders how Sen. Rubio would have handled the last part of his speech if he was unable to eventually find the final page.

Conclude that Presentation the Right Way

While it’s tempting to close a presentation with the phrase, "Sooooo, in closing…," or perhaps even with a grand proclamation, broadcasting how well you did (think "Sexual Chocolate!!!" from "Coming to America"). Along those lines, maybe you’re the type to boldly state, "Yeah, I nailed that presentation. Jealous?," and then drop the mic and make your way to the parking lot. Either way, has some practical tips on how you can conclude in a classy manner, even if feel you performed poorly and you’d rather slink away in horror at the embarrassment you’ve just caused yourself and loved ones.

Even the strongest speakers can undercut a whole presentation with three seconds of wobbly indecision at the end. Those few seconds amount to the last impression you leave with your audience—it’s the last picture people will remember of you. You’ve spent your whole presentation building credibility for yourself and your idea, and that last impression has everything to do with how you hold yourself.

Watch your nonverbal behavior and body language. Not even a line like Patrick Henry’s, "Give me liberty…!" can bail you out if you act nervous, disgusted, insincere, or hurried. Here are six essential don’ts for ending your presentation.

1. Never blackball yourself …

…with a critical grimace, a shake of the head, eyes rolled upward, a disgusted little sigh. So what if you’re displeased with yourself? Don’t insult your audience by letting them know you were awful; they probably thought you were pretty good. One lip curl in those last three seconds can wreck 30 minutes of credibility-building. Keep a light smile on your face, and you can grimace into the bathroom mirror later if you want.

2. Don’t step backward.

If anything, take a half-step toward your listeners at the end. Stepping back is a physical retreat, and audiences subconsciously pick up on this cue. While you’re at it, don’t step back verbally, either. Softening your voice and trailing off toward the end obviously doesn’t sound confident. Maintain your strong vocal projection, enunciation, and pitch variety. You need to end with a bang, not a whimper.

3. Don’t look away.

Some speakers hark back to the last visual aid or PowerPoint slide, as if for reinforcement. Some look aside, unwilling to confront listeners dead in the eye at the last words. Murmuring "thank you" while staring off somewhere else isn’t the last impression you want to leave. Maintain good eye communication throughout.

4. Don’t leave your hands in a gestured position.

In our programs, we recommend using the resting ready position (arms gently at the sides) at the end to physically signal to your audience that you’ve finished. You must let them go visually, in addition to the closing remarks you’re making. If you keep your hands up at waist level, you look as if you have something more to say. In speaking, think of yourself as the gracious host or hostess as you drop your hands with an appreciative "thank you."

5. Don’t rush to collect your papers…

… Or visual aids, or displays. Stop and chat with people if the meeting is breaking up, then begin to tidy up in a calm, unhurried manner. Otherwise, you may contradict your calm, confident demeanor as a presenter. Behavioral cues are picked up by your audience throughout the entire presentation experience, even during post-presentation. If you sit down and grimace or huff and puff, listeners notice that, too.

6. Don’t move on the last word.

Plant your feet and hold still for a half-beat after the you in "thank you." Think about adding some lightness and a smile with your thank-you to show your comfort and ease. You don’t want to look eager to get out of there. If anything, you want to let people know you’ve enjoyed being with them and are sorry you have to go. Don’t rush off.

Paying attention your behaviors at the end of your presentation, whether formal at the lectern or informal standing at a meeting, will project the confidence and credibility you seek. Has anyone seen some of these behaviors in action? What are your thoughts?

How to Keep Your Audience Awake

If you’re in the professional world long enough, odds are pretty high that you will have to make at least a few speeches. While some people tense at the thought of public speaking, others take to it like ducks to water. However, the real keys are organizing your thoughts and practicing.

Regardless of your comfort level, one frequent challenge for everyone is making the speech interesting and engaging. We all know that business topics can be a little dry and crammed with information. The question is how to take what may be a dull topic and turn it into an attention-getter.

In its e-newsletter for communicators, Ragan recently offered five good tips to follow and featured a video of a speech that embodied this approach.

The speaker:

  1. Began with a story
  2. Created the framework for his talk
  3. Took his time
  4. Gave the audience a roadmap of what to expect
  5. Didn’t rely on PowerPoint

Spooked by Public Speaking? You’re Not Alone

As trick-or-treaters descend upon neighborhoods this weekend, there likely will be a fair share of miniature vampires, witches and werewolves ringing your doorbell. Sure, those costumes don’t scare us like they did when we were kids, but there is something else that inspires fear in millions of adults. It’s inescapable in most business, education and social circles. And, it eclipses even death as people’s top fear in study after study. It’s – gulp – public speaking.

Toastmasters International offers several public speaking tips. No matter the size of your audience or the nature of your presentation, you can find helpful suggestions (and maybe even take some comfort!) in the list below:

  • Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it than you include in your speech. Use humor, personal stories and conversational language – that way you won’t easily forget what to say.  
  • Practice. Practice. Practice! Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Revise as necessary. Work to control filler words. Practice, pause and breathe. Practice with a timer and allow time for the unexpected. 
  • Know the audience. Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers. 
  • Know the room. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.  
  • Relax. Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. (One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. Pause. Begin.) Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
  • Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence.

Don’t Give Lousy Presentations

If your business is looking to gain any edge it can, one surefire way to stifle progress is for your representatives to give lackluster presentations. Carmine Gallo of BusinessWeek recently took a sarcastic look at "How to Give a Lousy Presentation." Here are the steps that are sure to get folks talking about you in a less than flattering manner, and you can read the full article for expanded explanations:

  1. Misspell words
  2. Create distracting color combinations
  3. Use inconsistent fonts
  4. Use a really small font size
  5. Insert improperly sized photos that are stretched to fit the slide
  6. Look completely and totally disinterested
  7. Look disheveled
  8. Ready every word of a slide
  9. Don’t bother with a backup plan
  10. Don’t practice
  11. Call attention to your mistakes
  12. Open with an aggressive or off-color joke
  13. Use wild animations
  14. Use cartoon clip art
  15. Use ancient presentation software