8 tips on speaking to groups
By Kate Walker Miles
What are the tricks of the trade when it comes to wowing an audience?
1. Focus on your audience’s needs
Construct your presentation around what you want your audience to think, feel and do after listening to you. Edit your material down to the core elements you need to achieve this. Give yourself permission to be expressive and passionate about what you are saying. If you feel it, the audience can feel it.
2. Create a narrative
Play around with your bullet points and try to weave them together to land your messages in the most compelling way possible. Use personal stories or insight. Rehearse your points out loud in different ways until you feel safe within the structure, but also flexible about how you’re going to say it.
3. Engage them from the start
Grab the audience with your introduction, whether it’s a fact, a joke, a story or a question. Then, if you can, try to loop back and mention it in your closing thought. Remember
to maintain eye contact from the start to build rapport and trust.
4. Use slides sparingly
Slides are there to back up what you’re saying – they can be humorous or surprising but they shouldn’t fight with you for attention. With data, it’s usually better to offer a snapshot. It’s the shape of the chart that’s important rather than a focus on specific numbers. A few compelling facts, or data used well, will always work better than an avalanche of stats.
5. Rehearse the overall shape
Once you’ve got your thoughts together, rehearse them out loud at least twice. Don’t try to remember exact words, but instead practise delivering the same thought in different ways. You just need to be clear on, and very familiar with, the overall shape of the presentation.
6. Prepare your body and voice
Before you make your presentation, take a few minutes to prepare physically. Turn your head from side to side, then lengthen your spine and roll your shoulders.
Take deep, slow breaths into your belly and massage the muscles between your cheekbone and jaw bone, alongside your ear, while encouraging your jaw to release downwards. This will help to slow you down when you speak, release tension and improve your vowel sounds.
7. Stay grounded
If seated, make sure you are sitting on your sitz bones, that you are upright, physically open and free of tension. This will help you to breathe, think and speak well. If standing, keep your feet hip-width apart and your knees soft. Release your shoulders, with your arms hanging freely from them. If you are centred and grounded when sitting or standing, you will be more balanced, both physically and mentally.
8. Fielding questions
If you get a tough question from the audience, pause and allow yourself to breathe. Let the question sit with you. No one is expected to have all the answers and it’s OK to say you don’t know. This will show others that you are confident enough with your knowledge to show a little vulnerability. You could also give an educated estimate: “We don’t know the exact figures, but in my experience I would expect it to be in the region of X.”
9. Do it with feeling
Experimenting with the pitch of your voice can help to tell a story and convey different emotions.
For me, it’s very important to put yourself right at the centre of your presentation. This is not a fact sheet. It’s you, talking about something you care deeply about. Don’t be afraid to be expressive or to use personal experiences. Convey your passion. It’s all about making your audience feel something.
About the writer
RADA Business tutor Kate Walker Miles has appeared extensively on TV, in movies and on stage. Prior to becoming an actor, she produced the TV shows The Big Breakfast and The Word. This experience, plus her degree in experimental psychology, allows her to combine two of her passions – performance and psychology. Kate has trained many TV presenters
and her clients include Channel 4, Morgan Stanley and PA Consulting.