by: Harold Taylor

If you want deliver keynotes or make other presentations, how you deliver the material is almost as important as the content. If you want some practise, join your local trade or professional association or the local Chamber of Commerce. At every members’ meeting at our Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce, for example, we ask each person to give a quick update on what’s happening with his or her business or themselves.

Experience is the greatest teacher. But here are a few suggestions to consider in the meantime.

Overcome stage fright.
It’s natural to be a little anxious. Experiencing a little stage fright every time we appear before a group is normal. In fact, it’s desirable; it helps us to do our best. We are naturally concerned about how we will come across, and we want to do a good job.

A little stress never hurt anyone — especially when we have the opportunity to work it off through the activity of delivering a talk or making a presentation. To keep stage fright under control, concentrate on your message, not on yourself. Talking to five, ten or fifty people is no different from talking to one or two — with the exception of having to talk a little louder. We would have no difficulty jumping a four-foot-wide stream, but a similar gap thousands of feet high on a mountain cliff can immobilize us with fear if we allow ourselves to think of the height. So don’t. Concentrate on the jump — or the speech.

The more familiar you are with your material, the less prone you will be to getting stage fright. The biggest fault of many accomplished speakers is that they get lazy. They feel they no longer have to prepare, and their lack of preparation is usually obvious. If you’re not an accomplished speaker, it’s even more important to spend ample time in preparation. Lack of preparation aggravates stage fright. You should always know more about your topic than you’ll ever have time to tell.

Organize your talk.
Every presentation should have an objective. Write it down. Are you trying to inform, persuade or entertain? Have an outline or plan. Every presentation has an introduction (which should be flexible), a body and a conclusion.

The conclusion is usually more definite — even memorized in some cases. But don’t memorize the whole presentation. Write it out; read it to yourself; be familiar with the ideas; but don’t memorize it. Memorized presentations are not spontaneous. They become a performance. An act. You appear to be talking at your audience, not with them.

The same thing applies to reading a speech. If you must read a speech, be familiar enough with your material that you can look around leisurely and comfortably, imitating “first-time utterance.”

Rehearse it to perfect your timing, pauses, inflections and change of pace. A better method than reading the speech or memorizing it in its entirety is to write it out, give each new idea a heading and memorize the headings or key words of each heading. And it’s OK to do this when you’re just getting started as a speaker. But professional speakers don’t have to memorize cue cards. They are so familiar with their material that they present it as though they were having a conversation with a group of friends.

Give it your best shot.
One of the biggest problems for beginning speakers is the use of the pause. They seem to be afraid of silence. Don’t tear right into your presentation. Pause a moment to look at the audience and begin with a sentence that indicates you are aware they are there. Be enthusiastic.

Enjoy yourself. Exude confidence. Don’t fidget or pace. Speak naturally but with enough volume that everyone can hear you. Gesture if it’s natural to you. In fact, the key to a successful presentation is being natural in your delivery. Don’t try to be a comedian — unless you are one.

Humor must be relevant. Avoid hackneyed expressions, jargon and pompous words. Everyone loves sincerity and hates a phony. Just be yourself. And make your ending neat and prompt. It’s better for an audience to think “What? It’s over so soon?” than “My word, is she never going to quit?”

Harold L Taylor, owner of, is a member of the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce and a columnist with the Kings County Record,

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