Master Presenting

Stop The Awkwardness—Present with Confidence

The Vital Components of Presenting

I took my nephew to see his first firework show in Chicago many years ago. We were trying to explain “fireworks” and we struggled with finding the words.

“Lights in the sky.” 

“It’s like these explosions, these loud noises. . . .” 

“The sky gets painted for a bit and then it gets painted again.” 

We needed a poet, a poet for four-year olds. 

The show started and he quickly jerked back, surprised by the explosion, but once the fireworks filled the sky, he said, “Oh, it’s like magic.” 

Yes, it’s like magic. 

Sometimes presenting, skilled public speaking and teaching seems like, well, magic. 

All these components get put together and then we see the result, not a beach or across a city skyline, but on a stage. What are the ingredients to create that impact? 

Confidence: Public speakers are comfortable on stage, no matter if there is an audience of 5 or 5,000, the presenter carries herself well. They walk across the stage; they are poised and when they speak they dial into the audience, communicating with confidence and authority. 

Knowledge: The speaker has something to share: an insight, some research, a dream, a goal, and a vision for what that audience could become. She has gathered her information well and knows her topic, the ins and outs, and what is currently being discussed in her field.

Delivery: Analogies, metaphors, humor, and storytelling abound. The speaker communicates and translates her information to the audience with skill. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of information, but more than enough to make it worth the audience’s time. The slides aren’t just lists of information and documents thrown up there, bullet upon bullet, but are pleasant to look at and don’t detract from the message, but enhance it. 

These are the components of the magic, the elements of the spell called “public speaking” but how do you master them? 

The Art of Confidence

Here’s how I got more and more confident in my public speaking: I got in front of an audience as much as I could. I didn’t feel a huge confidence boost the first or second time I did it, but in small increments, I got better in front of an audience. Small exercises, baby steps can help you get there. 

Try the following to build up your confidence: 

  • Strike up a conversation with a stranger at Starbucks or your local, hipster coffee shop. 
  • Ask your boss to give you more time in front of staff, training new employees or at least showing them the ropes. 
  • Attempt a new skill: cooking class, woodworking, driving a motorcycle, etc. 
  • Attend a Pecha Kucha or Moth Storytelling Event. 

Do one small thing that confronts the fear of presenting and those small steps add up to a great momentum.

The Art of Knowledge

I’ve written about how to gather information quickly when it comes to presenting and capturing information. But other sites can provide you online resources such as, showing you popular websites on your topic. One of my favorite habits is perusing, Barnes and Noble, grabbing books that interest me, a large cup of coffee and gleaning what I can. If I find something I like, I capture it in Evernote and store it for later. 

Social media can be a big boon in this area. One friend of mine posted on Facebook, “I’m looking for someone to interview who is skilled at forensic computer science.” I yawned and flipped through the rest of the pages. I had no idea what that was about. Lo and behold a couple of days later, she had PLENTY of choices of who to interview for her next presentation.

Tap into your resources and bring out more evergreen information. 

The Art of Delivery

I think this is the hardest one. Confidence? You can fake that. You can act like you’re confident. Your information can be alright, nothing fancy and completely average, and the audience might forgive you. They might actually learning something. 

It’s the delivery that makes or breaks you. 

I talked about Brené Brown’s killer delivery and I’ll admit, it’s hard to do. 

How I do it—When I practice giving my speeches, I will do it twice. Once I’m covering the confidence and the knowledge part. Am I conveying it right? Am I hitting the points? I don’t usually move around and worry about delivery.

The second time I practice, I work on the delivery. I move around. I practice hand gestures. One aspect of speaking we overlook is when we are humorous, we tend to not be ready for the audience’s reaction. We have to be ready for them to laugh. That’s a good time to move around, take a breath and smile. I recognize that I know the information and I’m ready to present it. 

And probably the best thing I can say about presenting is that when you commit to the fact that the audience is for you and people in the chairs want you to succeed, it makes every word easier, every gesture matter and every story count. 

Tell me in the comments what helps you in any of these area: confidence, knowledge or delivery.

About Ryan McRae

Ryan McRae has presented all over the world from South Africa to Afghanistan. He has spoken and designed presentations for Fortune 100 companies and wants this tech-focused culture to be able to speak well and with confidence.

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