- Make your introduction brief. Like less than 30 seconds. If someone introduces you, skip the introduction completely, because you were just introduced. There’s nothing that stalls a presentation or performance more than a two or three minute monologue before getting into the “meat” of things.
- Use the podium. If there is a podium or table, use it to hold your materials. Sometimes we shake when we read (even if we’re not nervous, though especially if we are), and we shake more if we become conscious of our own shaking.
- Use the microphone. If there’s a mic, use it. Sure your voice might carry without one, or you may have to fiddle with it a moment to adjust for your height, but people in the back can hear better when your voice is amplified. Trust me on this.
- Encourage audience interaction. When performing poetry, this means you can allow an audience to clap if they choose to clap. When giving a presentation, let the audience know whether it’s appropriate to ask questions as you present or if you’ll have a Q&A after the presentation is complete. Then, make sure there is a Q&A.
- Act confident. You might be terrified, but try not to let it show on the outside. To accomplish this, stand tall. Speak with conviction. Make eye contact. Most importantly, don’t apologize. While you may know when you’re making mistakes in front of an audience, many of them are probably unaware.
- Be organized. If you’re giving a presentation, have talking points ready to go before the presentation. If you’re reading poems (or from a fiction/nonfiction book), have your selections planned out before you hit the stage. Organization goes a long way in how the audience perceives you and how you perceive yourself.
- Slow down. This is an important tip, because many people automatically start talking fast, especially if they know they’re on the clock. I try to remember to breathe and pause in appropriate places. Nothing awkward, just long enough to allow my audience to digest what I just said.
- Make personal, add humor. Sometimes your jokes will not be personal. Sometimes your personal stories will not be humorous. Sometimes the stars will align and both will coincide, and that’s when you’ll engage your audience the most. While I advise humor and personal anecdotes, make sure they have context in your presentation.
- Stop before you’re asked to leave. There’s something to the thought of leaving the audience wanting more. Know your time. Wear a watch. And end a little early (like a minute or two). If the audience feels like the presentation or performance went by fast, they’ll attribute it to your great speaking skills.
- Provide next steps and/or a conclusion. Depending on why you’re speaking, you should have some kind of suggestion for your audience. Maybe it’s to buy your chapbook or applaud the hosts. Maybe it’s to put some of your advice into action immediately. If you’re presenting a topic, it’s a good idea to sum up all the main points before sending your audience back out into the world.
One bonus tip: Provide handouts. Whether you’re reading poetry or leading a workshop on business management, handouts are a great way to let your audience have something tangible to take away with them. Your handouts should be helpful and relevant. They should also include your name and contact information, including your website or blog url. (Yes, it’s a sneaky good marketing tool.)
Just remember, speaking is an activity. Most activities are hard to master unless you practice. So get out there and speak and realize that you’re going to make mistakes early on. That’s part of the learning process. Just dust yourself off and get out there again.