“Who’s next?” Everyone knows it’s coming, but why is being the next person to speak so scary? In my Management Communication course, I still remember the first impromptu speech I ever gave. I felt so nervous and scared, but as I progressed in the course, I finally discovered presenting does not have to be so intimidating.
By learning the easy mnemonic BREEZE, you will be able to practice your presenting skills and overcome your presenting fears.
BREEZE – body language, relevant stories, elimination of “verbal clutter,” eye contact, zeal and effective gestures – are all critical in presenting and have helped me fine-tune and improve my presentation skills.
B – Body language
Legs quivering? Hands shaking? Heart beating so fast you feel you may pass out? All of these are signs of nervousness and happen to the best of us, but it is important to improve. Body language plays a very important role in business communication, accounting for roughly 55 percent of what people perceive (Mehrabian, see image).
One of the biggest issues I struggle with is nervous fidgeting and moving my feet. If you suffer from a similar habit, try putting aluminum foil underneath your feet—I know it sounds crazy, but it can help! According to UNC Kenan-Flagler professor Sharon Cannon, if you hear the foil crinkle, you will become more aware of your fidgeting and will take conscious steps to correct it.
Rather than fidgeting, try standing steady with a wide base and your toes pointed forward, all of which signify confidence. However, moving across the room – especially at transition points – can keep your audience engaged and interested in you and your presentation.
R – Relevant stories
Show, don’t tell! Incorporate relevant stories with the STAR method—situation, task, action and result. Stories and examples provide the audience with concrete, visual images, which help them better understand your argument.
When thinking of memorable stories to include in a presentation, always keep the audience in mind. For example, if you are trying to get your colleagues to donate to an animal shelter, appeal to pathos by telling a story that will tug on their heartstrings about an experience with your dog. However, never lie or make up a story because your audience will be able to see right through you. Always stay truthful.
E – Eliminate “verbal clutter”
“Um, like, so, ah, ya know.” All are examples of the dreaded space fillers people use in presentations. Although breaking this habit may seem impossible, I promise you can do it with patience and practice.
When I met with Phil Matta (MBA ’16), a consultant in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business Communication Center, he showed me a game that I found invaluable because it finally made me aware of my tendency to say “um.” Therefore, I recommend the following exercise: give a friend or partner a random subject (it can be anything – i.e., purple socks) and see how long the person can spontaneously speak without using his or her “trigger” word. Pass the object back and forth as you each practice avoiding your trigger words. The goal is to speak without clutter for 30 seconds.
Want more help? Have no fear…there’s an app for that! It’s true: an app called “Um Counter” enables you to count the number of times you use a filler word. In my last five-minute presentation, I said “um” 27 times! Now, I can take steps to reduce that number and track my progress.
So, you may be wondering: Why do we even use verbal clutter? Most people say these words because of nerves, but others feel obligated to fill an awkward silence or gap in their presentation. Instead of using verbal clutter to fill the space, take the time to pause, breathe and think of what you are going to say next. Also, to avoid blanking when you first begin your presentation, I recommend planning out the first 20 seconds; however, remain genuine. This tactic will help you feel more comfortable and ease the tension for both you and your audience.
E – Eye contact is crucial
To captivate your audience, make eye contact with multiple people in the room, NOT just one person in the center of it. If you focus on one person, you can make that person feel picked on or uncomfortable, which is not what you want to convey. Instead, choose people located in every section of the room so that you cover the entire space. I like to think of it as having mini conversations with various members of the audience. This strategy enables you as a speaker to connect on a deeper level with your audience and get them engaged in what you are saying.
Z – Zeal matters
Leave your audience wanting more—whether it be at the beginning or the end of your presentation. Begin with a hook – a captivating opening that gets your audience interested in what you are about to talk about.
According to William Baker in “Writing & Speaking for Business,” a surprising statistic, a rhetorical question, a quotation, a personal story or an interesting image can all help you perk the interest of your audience. Use this opportunity to set the stage for the rest of your presentation in regard to your tone, as well as to build a relationship with the audience. Similarly, leave your audience with a call to action —make them feel real emotion and want to join your cause, invest in your company or donate to your charity.
E – Effective gestures
Rather than make awkward small gestures or play with your jewelry, use hand gestures to your advantage! Use them to help underscore and punctuate your most important points.
For example, Baker suggests that when listing three things, accompany the three points by “one, two and three fingers,” like you are checking off a checklist.
Finally, if you choose not to use hand gestures at any time in your presentation, put your hands by your side in a neutral position so you guarantee that you don’t accidentally distract your audience.
If you follow these six steps, I am confident you will breeze by your peers and deliver an outstanding presentation!
By Katie Grad (BSBA ’17)