What do some of the world’s best presenters have in common? They speak more clearly, and slowly, than average. During their talks, great speakers use pace strategically to emphasize important points and keep their audience engaged.
This is especially important when presenting online, inside a square box on the screen. Even more so when you’re presenting to a global audience in their non-native language. If you ever find yourself mumbling and stumbling through a presentation, here are three simple tips to get you back on track.
Use Less Words
Many presenters make the mistake of sharing too much information in too little time. As a general rule, I recommend finishing your draft presentation, or speech, and then cutting it in half. Yes, in half! You may be wondering, how can I cut my presentation in half when I have so much to cover and too little time as it is? The answer is simple: if your audience can’t keep up with you, they won’t retain any of what you shared in the first place.
It’s always better to say just enough rather than too much. If this seems impossible, you may need to revisit your communication objective. Any content that doesn’t directly support your objective should be set aside for another time and place.
Like a good meal, people need time to digest information. Just as we wouldn’t rush a good meal, we mustn’t rush a presentation. The easiest way to speak more clearly is to use less words in the first place.
Speaking at a different pace doesn’t come naturally to everybody. By nature I’m a pretty fast talker. As such, I build in lots of space to my presentations and time them during rehearsal. This way I can make edits upfront so that I’m less likely to speed up under pressure.
Take A Pause
Even the best prepared presentations can get off-track from time to time. We may get caught up in the moment and start speeding through our content. Or our nerves get the better of us once we’re in front of a live audience. This is where pauses come in handy.
We can use pauses to emphasize an important point. Or to mark a transition from one idea to another. Pauses are also helpful to bring an audience back if we feel we’ve lost them.
One of the techniques I use to stay calm, and allow pauses to happen naturally, is counting. For example, after delivering a key message I count “one one-thousand, two one-thousand” in my head before picking up again. (To see this in practice, check out this week’s Simply Comms video.)
Our perception of time changes significantly when we’re presenting. What may feel like an eternity to us is only a couple of seconds for the audience. Counting is a shortcut to use pauses effectively. This way our delivery is in line with our audience’s perception of time.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
If all else fails, remember to breathe. In the time it takes to breathe in and out deeply, you can get grounded and refocused on your communication objective. Moreover, this gives your audience an opportunity to catch up. What is second-nature to you will be new for your audience. Otherwise you wouldn’t be presenting.
Take a deep breath to give your audience time to process the information you’ve shared. As an added bonus, a deep breath supports your voice so that you project more confidence when speaking.