The science behind speaking stress

Confronted with the task of speaking in public or delivering an important presentation, many people suffer from nerves that manifest themselves in a number of different ways; dry throat, sweaty palms, shaking knees, flushed skin, breathing difficulties, perhaps even a “frozen in the headlights” glazing over of the eyes. It is also not unusual for the nerves to be translated into an involuntary display of hectic non-verbal signals that tend to make us look afraid and panic-stricken in the eyes of the audience. Although the symptoms vary, their impact invariably sabotages our best efforts to make a good impression and think clearly. Most of us by now are aware that the adrenaline released as part of the fight or flight reaction is to blame for what we feel. An article published in Psychology Today online provides us with the following information: “The fight-or-flight mechanism is part of the general adaptation syndrome defined in 1936 by Canadian biochemist Hans Selye of McGill University in Montreal. He published his revolutionary findings in a simple seventy-four line article in in which he defined two types of ‘stress’: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress). Both eustress and distress release cortisol as part of the general adaption syndrome.” Whether in response to “good” stress or “bad” stress, cortisol is released by the adrenal glands as part of this mechanism. It is also clear to scientist that fear increases cortisol. With good stress, we experience an invigorating surge of energy to help us rise to the challenge we are facing and cortisol returns to normal upon completion of the task. When we are distressed,...

Keep technology in its place

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.” Edward R. Murrow The media is there to support you and your message in a presentation – it will NOT do the job for you. Your audience does not just want to hear what you have to say and look at your PowerPoint slides – they also want to get a feel for who YOU are. The presenter who relies on overloaded slides, complicated visual support and confusing special effects is placing the technology in the spotlight and not the person. Here are our top ten, simple to apply tips that will enable you to make a real connection to your audiences AND use technology the right way: 1. Feel comfortable with equipment: check out and test BEFORE the presentation starts so that you can control the technology (and not the other way round). 2. Keep slides simple (less is definitely more): hold attention with one main message per slide, a cohesive graphic style, some visual variety and a few simple transition and animation effects. 3. Plan to use a media mix: combine hi-tech with low-tech by occasional use of a flipchart or white board to answer questions or emphasise an important point. 4. Practice the opening: get off to a good start by knowing exactly what you want to say at the beginning and deliver the first few sentences confidently WITHOUT slides. 5. Let them see you: deliver your...

Design your slides

We offer you the following insights courtesy of a great book called “slide:ology” by Nancy Duarte (2008, O’Reilly Media). Duarte Design created the presentation for Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. This extract is from Chapter 12 and offers a five-point manifesto: 1. Treat your audience as king: they didn’t come to your presentation to see you. They came to find out what you can do for them. Success means giving them a reason for taking their time, providing content that resonates, and ensuring it’s clear what they are to do. 2. Spread ideas and move people: …communicate your ideas with strong visual grammar to engage all their senses and they will adopt these ideas as their own. 3. Help them see what you are saying: …guide your audience through ideas in a way that helps, not hinders, their comprehension. Appeal not only to their verbal senses but to their visual senses as well. 4. Practise design not decoration: don’t just make pretty talking points. Instead display information in a way that makes complex information clear. Display information in the best way possible fro comprehension rather than focusing on what you need as a visual crutch. Content carriers connect with...

Refresh slide basics

  “To succeed as a presenter, you must think like a designer. Every decision a designer makes is intentional. Reason and logic underpin the placement of the visual elements.” Nancy Duarte   The watchwords for great slides are readability, simplicity, consistency and across the whole presentation – variety! Limit yourself to one main message or visual idea per slide and support with relevant facts and arguments. Use concise language and do not overload the slide with words – less is definitely more. Put the main message into the headline using about 7 to 9 words maximum. A sub-heading can expand on and add extra meaning to the heading. When you have no option but to use text, aim for a maximum of 4 to 5 bullet points. Use a font size that is READABLE: 24—28 points for the bullets, 38—44 points for the headline. Sans-serif fonts like Arial work best in presentations and bold text has more impact. A visual solution (tables, photographs, clipart) is right when it SUPPORTS your main message and does not distract from it. Take that photographs are light enough and have a high enough resolution when projected. Use corporate design templates when available and apply a cohesive graphic style throughout the presentation e.g. ClipArt in homogeneous drawing styles, font style and heights… Label all graphic elements that are not 100% self-explanatory. Use colour wisely (limit to three or four) and colour code (headlines, bullets etc.). Check out how it looks on the screen and not just on your PC. Keep animation and transition effects simple: e.g. wipe text from left in the reading direction,...

Match the visuals to the message

“Objects in pictures should so be arranged as by their very position to tell their own story.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe In our tip, Prepare your story first, we outlined the four key elements needed in your early presentation preparation. Here we offer you an example of how this could work in practice by using a sample marketing presentation made by a product manager to the senior departmental management team.In the diagram above,  each column represents a stage of preparation BEFORE the slides are produced. In (1), an structure with defined blocks is outlined – this one works very well for a presentation that needs to get approval from an audience of decision-makers. In (2), the links that hold the story together are shown and in (3), the story is told in brief. Finally, in (4) some possible options for visual ideas are listed – before firing up PowerPoint and staring to produce the slides. Make use of these steps yourself for your own structure and...

Prepare your story first

“If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.” Groucho Marx Groucho Marx may have been a famously funny person but his technique would not do you any favours in a presentation. The most common mistake presenters make is to tell the story because it is interesting for them and they quite forget to make it relevant and interesting for the audience. In our view, there are four key elements to incorporate into your early presentation planning to make sure your story ultimately resonates thoroughly with the audience.   1. Analyse the target audience Ask yourself, “Who are they?” and look at demographics, job titles, age, expertise etc. Ask yourself, “What motivates them?” and think about their needs and expectations. Ask yourself, “Which questions will they want to have answered in relation to the topic?” and decide which answers must be incorporated into the presentation. 2. Know what you want to achieve What do you want your audience to do, say, think or feel afterwards as a result of your presentation? If you could only have ONE key message for presentation and that the audience should remember, what would that be? What else does the audience need to know from you in order for the key message to make sense to them? 3. Write the story in brief Choose a structure that works well in conjunction with the topic and goal (i.e. are you informing, convincing, recommending etc…) Give labels to the various blocks of the structure (i.e. situation, problem, solution, benefits), matching them up the blocks with the questions you think...