Article word count: 650 words - Approximate time to read: 2.6 minute
Let me tell you about how, when presenting, I learned to avoid coming across as stiff or wooden.
I was asked to deliver five minutes on my usual subject, not to a workshop class of 16, but to an after dinner audience of 80 people. Presenting to 80 people was out of my comfort zone.
Rather than rehearsing my five minutes over and over to become confident I knew it, instead I relied on creating good notes on cue cards.
Taking my notes with me onstage, my notes became my master. Instead of focusing on audience reaction, engaging them with eye contact, I became slave to ‘getting the content right’.
The outcome? I came across as nervous, uncomfortable, lacking in confidence, in a word—wooden. After that experience, I vowed forevermore to rehearse til I knew it, then trust myself to speak off the cuff.
It’s all about self-trust.
In extreme sport there’s a motto – check your equipment, then trust your equipment.
When presenting, prepare, write it out, make cue cards, rehearse. But once in front of your audience, trust yourself, (trust your sub-conscious).
So what if you forget a detail?
Firstly, your audience doesn’t know what you forgot to say.
Secondly, if what you omitted was essential to understanding, and if you allow time for Q & A, a question allows you to respond confidently and appear the expert.
Have you discovered when rehearsing that each time you deliver there’s a different logical flow? If so, that’s good. It means you are navigating intuitively through your content. Let go and allow it to unfold.
From the Latin, ex tempore means ‘out of the moment’. Extemporaneity is the quality of being able to deliver without notes and off the cuff what’s been carefully prepared.
How to be extemporaneous
You wouldn’t use your slideshow as your notes, would you?!
Research shows when a speaker reads aloud the same text displayed on a slide it annoys and frustrates an audience, and interferes with recall. That one behaviour not only contributes to your coming across as ‘wooden’, it also reduces your credibility.
Make your slides a visual feast. Find an emotive photo image, add a single keyword and move away from slides full of text.
Cue cards vs. notes
If notes are a safety net, what style of notes are acceptable to an audience without affecting your perception as an authority on your topic?
A4 size allows you to write full sentences. That’s ok during preparation. But once you have your written-out text, move to system cards or palm cards. Rewrite your notes as keywords to trigger memory.
Content vs. process
Have you ever encountered a speaker who, when told they have five minutes remaining simply speeds up and firehoses the content? If a speaker speeds up, will listeners think faster? More likely they’ll mentally switch off, waiting for it all to end.
Remember, content is not more important than process. When running out of time, simply draw easily to a natural conclusion, leaving time for Q & A.
But don’t memorise
Delivering off the cuff is not the same as memorising. With memorising, there’s a danger again of sounding hollow.
The purpose of being ‘in the flow’ is to sound natural and appear authentic. It gives you freedom to focus on your audience, make eye contact and connect with the room.
How you mentally speak to yourself before you go on has an effect. Observe what you say to yourself, and replace a negative thought, such as ‘What if I forget something?’ with a positive affirmation such as, ‘I know enough to be successful.’
- Instead of A4 size notes, transfer keywords to cue cards.
- Practice, rehearse, know it so well you can drop cue cards altogether.
- But . . . don’t memorise by rote. Navigate intuitively.
- Master self-talk. Tell yourself, ‘I know enough to be successful.’