Tips for Facing the One Thing Worse than Death

Posted on January 4, 2018

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Rafael Baptista continues his public speaking column with hopes of calming your fears whether you’re speaking at a council meeting or a wedding reception.

About the Author
Rafael Baptista is the Strategy and Performance Analyst for the City of Raleigh, North Carolina. He serves on the ELGL Management Team and is a contributing author to Careers in Government. He holds a Bachelor’s of Art Degree in Politics and Spanish from Willamette University where he was a member of the debate team. He is also a proud MPA graduate of the University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill. He can typically be found on the soccer pitches of North Carolina or on Twitter

There have been times that I have gone to a conference session excited to learn about a topic by a subject matter expert only to struggle to stay alert during the presentation because the speaker was not engaging the audience. The quality of your presentation is more than just your content, it’s also about how well you, the speaker, connect with the audience. In today’s post, I will share with you three tips for being an engaging public speaker: (1) stick to your message (2) be authentically humble and (3) have fun.
Stick to Your Message 
The goal of any presentation is to educate or persuade your audience of something. Perhaps you want to convince your city council to approve a new initiative or you are trying to teach employees about the newest and greatest feature in Excel. When creating your presentation and delivering it, focus on that goal. Don’t get carried away by irrelevant information or unnecessary stories.
I remember one of the biggest debate competitions of my career was the octa finals of the national championships. The topic was . . . taxes. My partner and I didn’t focus on our assigned message, increase taxes; we focused on showing the judges how much we knew about taxes. We lost track of our message and failed to make a convincing argument and bored the judges.  Our opponents? They focused on arguing that increased taxes were bad, with every fact and story they told supporting their narrative. You can probably guess that they won and we went home early.
Have a laser focused message that you want to convey to your audience and make sure that everything you say supports that message. The first step in creating your presentation should be developing that focused message.
Be Truly Humble – Make your message the focus, not you.
Every speaker wants to have credibility with the audience and feels a strong urge to assert themselves as a subject matter expert. While credibility is important, being arrogant and overconfident will turn off your audience. Don’t dismiss your knowledge and credentials but show them through the stories and points that you make rather than by highlighting your credentials or reminding everyone that you are an expert. Listen to some of the best speakers, and you will notice that rarely do they tell you how smart they are, they show you it.
I am not saying pretend to be humble or fool the audience into thinking you are humble – I am saying to be authentically humble. The focus of your presentation needs to be your message, not you. I recently started reading a book by John Maxwell that had this story about Bill Graham’s humility. A person recognized Bill Graham on an elevator and told him that he was a great man to which Graham responded, “No, I’m not a great man, I just have a great message.” Be humble, focus on your message and your audience will be better for it.
Have Fun
If you’re not having fun, I promise you that your audience is not having fun. I recently heard an economist from the Federal Reserve give a 1.5-hour update on national and regional economic trends and market outlook (still with me?). Normally, this type of presentation (early in the morning) would put me to sleep but this speaker was having a blast presenting to us. He made some corny jokes and laughed and smiled, making me want to laugh and smile. Happy people are addictive and happy presenters are no different. Do not take this to mean that if you are bad at telling jokes, you should force yourself to create jokes. Be yourself, just try to have fun.
A simple trick is to try to smile every once in a while during your presentation, it will cheer you up as well as the audience.
In closing, remember stick to your message, be humble and have fun the next time you give a presentation!

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