Seven Steps To Becoming A Better Public Speaker

Public speaking is a fundamental component of effective nutrition practice in a vast number of settings and also happens to both one of the most impressive skills that a person could have and also an activity that elicits fear in a lot of people.

I’m sure some of you reading this today have absolutely no trouble with public speaking ( or writing, for that matter) but I also know that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Since it is an obligation that many of us face in either our academic or professional lives, I feel that it’s a skill worth investing in.

That concern is the driving motivation behind today’s article.

Public Speaking 101

While my love for writing is well documented, less of you may be aware of the fact that I also share a great passion for public speaking  and presentations.

It is something I’d like to dive even deeper into from a career perspective,  but up until this point I’ve presented nutrition information in a professional setting to a wide variety of audiences including college students, law firms, start ups and even federal employees.

Even as a writer, I would honestly argue that a well delivered presentation is one of the most professionally rewarding and  experiences because for those fleeting moments you command the respect of your peers and have a unique opportunity to assert yourself as a confident and competent practitioner.

The exhilaration involved with presenting in front of a crowd is hard to replicate.

The goal of today’s article is really just to remind you of how enjoyable it should be to be the centre of attention and help you shift away from the dread of presenting and towards embracing the moment for what it is and the plaudits to be had when you perform to your potential.

My 7 Steps To Better Public Speaking

#1 Excessive Preparation:  Yea, we talkin’ about practice ( shout out to Allen Iverson).

A lot of it.

I remember one instance years ago during my  internship where I had a presentation that I didn’t prepare properly for but it still went well. Guess what ? I got lucky.

No one is, by pure default, God’s gift to public speaking.

It goes without saying that my #1 rule to success in public speaking is to prepare beyond diligently, just like you would prepare for a test or exam or any other very important endeavour.

This means not only practicing your presentation, but also ensuring the content of that presentation is accurate and comprehensive, and that you have mastery over it.

Preparing  excessively helps you build confidence in the subject you will be speaking about and remove the fear of failure that people may associate negatively with public speaking.

My personal policy is that I like to practice what I’m going to say until I can do the presentation in front of an “imaginary audience” ( aka no one) at the same level that I expect to do it in front of a real one.

This often means several practice runs in the days or even weeks leading up to the presentation, depending on what your timeframe allows.

Don’t leave it for the night before and if you are still stuttering through your first few practice runs you should not expect to be able to go and magically deliver a masterpiece the next day.

Remember that in order to practice something twice, you had to have practiced it once first, so just do it.

Believe me, it will be immediately apparent to your audience if you have mastery over the subject matter and whether or not you have prepared diligently for your engagement.

Knowing your presentation inside and out is not the only thing that matters but without it, everything else matters less.

The final component of excessive practice is knowing your audience.

You have to be savvy enough to understand that the manner in which you present ( including jokes you might crack, or the language you might use) should be adapted to your audience.

The way you present to a law firm vs a college classroom, for example, will probably look a bit different.

#2 Be Excited/Share your excitement:  Your moment to shine is a big deal for you, but it may not always be for your audience. That’s not to say they don’t care what you have to say, but they just may not view it with the same emotions you do.

I like to remind myself, and anyone who will listen, that being allowed the opportunity to speak in front of any audience, of any size, for any reason is a big privilege and a responsibility that is to be made the most of.

That means two things:

  1. Hype YOURSELF up by holding on to the fact that speaking in front of others is a rewarding/meaningful endeavour. It is literally your chance to shine.
  2. Share this hype with your audience by letting them know from the start how excited you are to be there and how much it means for you to be speaking to them.

I encourage you to not look at it as an arduous endeavour rather shift your perspective towards the fact you have been given a forum to demonstrate your competence on a subject matter that you love in front of a captive audience. Let your natural excitement shine through.

#3 Shed The Crutches: Some people may hate me for saying this but the use of notes/flash cards during presentations, for me, is a big turnoff.

Those are the crutches I am referring to here.

And while yes it may be scary, I promise it is worth it.

Personally, I believe that the need for these “crutches” can be overcome with better and proper preparation, the importance of which I’ve already discussed.

Believe me, being able to go up and present with the absence of notes ( especially when everybody around you is relying on them) is VERY impressive and your audience knows that.

#4 Eye Contact/Engagement: The best thing about not needing to constantly look down at notes is that it allows you the opportunity to engage individual members of your audience through eye contact.

You’ve probably witnessed a presentation where the speaker was consistently looking down or elsewhere… I am willing to bet you can hardly remember what was said.

Maintaining eye contact with individual members of your audience also keeps them honest and lets them know you are trying to engage them on both a group and individual level and also reminds them that you WILL notice if they aren’t paying attention!

Don’t stop at eye contact either.

Especially during longer presentations, you should take any opportunity you can to engage the audience in your content ( ie: Can anyone name a source of Vitamin D?) to allow them to feel they are part of the experience and not just passengers.

#5 Mistakes Don’t Matter/Make Fun Of Yourself: Guess what? Your presentation won’t go perfectly.

Don’t let that stop you from preparing diligently, from presenting without notes or from being genuinely excited to speak.

Shed the burdensome notion that you will execute your presentation EXACTLY as you intended ( but don’t be so foolish as to completely disregard areas you could improve on for next time).

You WILL make a mistake, get caught in a tongue twister, say something out of order or whatever the case may be.

Guess what though, only YOU know what you were going to say and , in many cases, your audience actually probably has no idea if you did or did not make a mistake.

I always feel bad when people go slightly off track during presentations and it ends up affecting them for the duration.

I suggest instead to use “slip ups”  as an opportunity to make fun of yourself.

Humour is such a great tool to utilize in public speaking and helps to ease tension and create a more comfortable environment.

Not only will that buy you time to collect yourself but it also provides your audience with some entertainment.

Someone who does not take themselves too seriously is relatable and fun to engage with in a presentation.

#6 Anticipate & Prepare For Questions: Unless your like me and have blogged on every nutrition topic on the face of the earth, you will probably be asked probing questions that you have not previously encountered.

My recommendation is to do your due diligence in anticipating questions that may be sent your way because there is no better end to a strong presentation than by effortlessly answering questions.

With that being said, it’s always better to admit you don’t know the answer to something than to make up just for the sake of being able to look well informed.

#7 Smile/Be Expressive:  There are two ways to present things: Either with a smile, or without one.

A smile is partially defined as ” a pleased facial expression”

You are presumably speaking on a topic ( nutrition) that is your absolute passion and why would you express any other sentiment than, at the very least, being pleased.

And yes, there are other non-verbal ways to express your excitement.

My personal favourite?  Using my arms in such a way that it resembles conducting one of Mozart’s orchestras.

Final Thoughts

Presenting and public speaking are important skills to master in the field of nutrition and dietetics.

Although some people dread such engagements, my hope is that today’s article, at the very least, has helped provide some valuable insights and new approaches to help you take your public speaking game, and the way you think about public speaking as a whole, to the next level.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH