Three tips for improving your public speaking: Use your speech to tell stories and put statistics on slides

Gestures will draw your audience’s eye and help slow down your speech
Now in his sixth year as chancellor, George Osborne’s performance delivering yesterday’s Budget was perhaps his most assured yet. It is no secret that confidence increases with practice, but public speaking remains a bete noire for many of us. Pitches and presentations are an increasingly important part of professional life, so what can you do to stay calm and keep your audience interested?

GESTURE AND EYE CONTACT

Physical movement not only allows you to expel any tension, it can help you connect with your audience. According to UCLA emeritus professor Albert Mehrabian, body language accounts for 55 per cent of an emotive speech’s impact and content for just 7 per cent. By matching actions to your speech, you are also more likely to talk at a slower pace and emphasise the content’s main features.
For those who are prone to unsteady hands, standing still and holding notes will only draw attention to your nerves. Communications guru Terry Gault recommends trying “broader gestures”. Writing for Speakfearlessly.net, Gault explains that these will draw the audience’s eye and project dynamism. “Develop a vocabulary of gestures. They are both an effective and efficient way to communicate.”
When it comes to eye contact, look at audience members individually. Their eyes will be drawn to yours, and they will feel like they are playing an active role in your presentation.

KEEP STATISTICS SIMPLE

It can be difficult to strike a balance between a presentation which is well-evidenced, and one which distracts and confuses. If you try to verbalise complex facts and figures, your audience may have difficulty following them. Equally, overloading projector slides with data will simply detract from your talking.
If possible, communicate examples through a narrative. Their structures make stories more aurally digestible. Indeed, communications coach Carmine Gallo told Forbes that, having analysed 500 of the most popular TED talks, “stories make up at least 65 per cent of the content of the most successful presentations”.
If you must include complicated examples, confine them to projector slides or take-away documents. “As a rule of thumb, slides should not contain more than 20 words of text or 20 numbers,” suggests Oxford’s Dr Nick Brown in his pamphlet How To Give a Talk. “Go for boldness and clarity at the expense of information.”

MANAGE YOUR ADRENALINE

You secrete adrenaline to stimulate your body to survive a physical attack, and public speaking events can simulate these conditions. “There will always be surprises”, presentation expert Nancy Duarte tells the Harvard Business Review, “but you can limit their number and impact by researching your topic thoroughly, anticipating tough questions, and practising your delivery”.
The audience has come because they believe your advice will be useful, not to critique your performance. Be confident in your expertise and do not apologise if you slip up. Ultimately, stage fright won’t go away, “so use it to improve your delivery,” suggests Malcolm Kushner in Public Speaking for Dummies.

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