Rules are made to be broken. Or are they?

There are a lot of 'best practices' for public speaking such as 'ignore the fear and just do it' or 'memorize your script word for word'.

Don't follow those best practices.

As a speaker, you better be breaking the rules--or you'll be delivering a weak presentation that'll have your audience reaching for their smartphones.

Don't believe me? Here's some proof:

1. Do you deal with your anxiety or try to ignore it?

Every public speaker at some point in their career has had to manage their anxiety.

Even for the most seasoned speakers, nerves are a reality. If someone tells you they've never had a problem with nerves, either while thinking about their upcoming event or at the podium, they're not telling the truth or they're foolish.

Recently, a new client told me that nerves weren't an issue for him. "I learned how to deal with them years ago," he said.

I asked what his secret was. He told me he compartmentalized his anxiety and had it stored in a box "somewhere over there."

I immediately knew this was going to be an issue (considering that he brought up the topic before I did). I stealthily peppered exercises throughout our sessions. He was glad I did.

His speech was a high-stakes presentation that could make or break his career. As it drew closer, he was surprised by the flood of emotion that hit him. Using the breathing, visualization, and thought re-framing exercises I'd taught him, he was able to manage that anxiety and give a great speech.

You should be nervous. It means you're taking your presentation seriously.

2. Do you write out your script word-for-word?

Many clients come to me with a script draft that's laboriously crafted word-for-word--even to the minutia of when to gesture, pause and smile.

Presentations aren't movies. They should be fluid events that evolve. That's what makes speeches sound natural and have your words easily leaving your lips.

You're better served writing out your opening hook, key points, sub points, transitions and establishing how you'll finish. While practicing, you can expand on each of these and get a feel for what's working and what's not.

It'll result in a speech that sounds less rehearsed--and one your audience will want to listen to.

3. Do you skip practice and wing it?

Please don't.

When I watch speakers grab the mic and tell me they haven't practiced, it makes me cringe. They've been told to be authentic and vulnerable and think speaking off the cuff is good advice.

Sorry, but the cockiness always shows through when you run off on tangents and close weakly. It's also disrespectful for those who have invested the time to hear you.

Instead, practice like the pros do. After you've done a run-through a few times, practice the parts that you're having trouble with. Practicing can be an onerous time-suck if not done thoughtfully.

If the challenging section still isn't working, you're better off tossing it. It's not working for a reason.

Only practicing the challenging pieces will save you hours of practice. Then, a day or so before your event, run through your presentation in its entirety. You'll be ready to go.

4. Have you noticed what happens when you end with a Q&A?

If you end your presentation on a Q&A, you'll look weak and out-of-control. That's because the audience won't quite be sure if your presentation is over.

Worse still is when the MC rushes in and pulls the hook on you. (If you're respectful of the amount of time you're given, this shouldn't be a problem.)

We've all seen presentations that end with the speaker looking awkward and not sure what to do with themselves. You can see the wheels turning: Should I take a bow or exit stage left?

Instead, take control and let your MC know you'll conclude with an intentional close once you've finished your Q&A. This way, there will be no question that you're finished and your audience will know when it's time to applaud.

5. Do you let the MC cobble together your intro at the last minute?

Your reputation is on the line.

Many speakers make the mistake of letting the host or MC take charge of their introduction. To make sure that you set yourself up well, craft your introduction and instruct the MC that this is how you want to be introduced. Create your intro so it's short, pithy and has your audience wanting more.

Remember, it's up to you to be the maestro. Guide yourself from start to finish making sure you're emotionally ready and have your concepts solid. Tell those around you how they can support you.

You'll be glad you pushed the rules.

Published on: Aug 30, 2016
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