How easy is it to feign a quick seizure? If you're like 73 percent of people who experience fear and dread at the thought of public speaking, maybe you've asked yourself this before. A 2014 survey of employees in the United States found that 20 percent said they'd fake an illness or ask a colleague to deliver a talk, even if they lost the respect of their boss and fellow colleagues. Yet, 70 percent of those respondents in the same survey acknowledged that presentation skills are a vital tool for career success—because what's the use of kick-ass ideas if you can't communicate them effectively?
Entrepreneur Jeff Kirschner knows the value of persuasive rhetoric. The Oakland-based founder has given hundreds of big presentations and smaller talks during the course of his career. And at least 100 annually since he started his latest venture, Litterati, in 2012. As the CEO of the groundbreaking app that identifies, geotags and crowdsources litter cleanup in 115 countries around the world, he's constantly spreading the word about his business.
Focusing on the clarity and consistency of his message has helped him deliver compelling presentations for places like Google, top-tier universities and even the EPA. Then, there was his TED talk in December 2016, which has garnered 1.3 million online views and continues to generate buzz. "I ended it feeling confident that I had done what I intended to do," he recalls of his talk. "Also the reception it received has been a nice a validator."
His latest success also required him to put his speaking skills to work. Kirschner was named a challenger in the new Dockers Challengers spring campaign that spotlights ambitious people making real changes in the world. That led to a photo shoot, an online spot and speaking in front of an international crowd with ease. Now a seasoned pro, he nailed it. So we asked Kirshner for suggestions on how you, too, can walk the talk to success.
Kirschner is not a big fan of ad-libbing, and you shouldn't be either. No matter how charming you think you are, winging it is an easy way to compromise the clarity of your message. All good presentations require planning, says Kirschner. "Sometimes I take a walk and practice out loud to myself to figure out the cadence of how I want to deliver this talk, the beats I want to hit, and the order of those beats," he says."The challenge is not over preparing because then you sound robotic." If you find yourself rushing through a memorized monologue with little to no emotion, you've gone full robot.
Work outthe tension
A muddled mind is a terrible waste. Build in some alone time to calm your nerves, focus, and amp up your energy level. Exercise is one good way to work out the kinks. "You have to shake up your physiological being to get your mental being where you want to go," says Kirshner, who goes for a run or a swim to loosen up. "You change the chemical makeup in your body and it adds clarity to your mind."
Body language is a visual clue about you before you even open your mouth. Your posture should be straight and your shoulders back, or you won't inspire people to listen to what you have to say. If you're a bit of mumbler, practice projecting your voice and articulating your words. "You're asking people to give up their time to pay attention to what you're saying," says Kirschner. "So you owe it to them to be compelling in every aspect."
Aim for authenticity
As with most things in life, don't try to be something you're not—especially in front of a room full of strangers. People can see through that. "I'm not a big believer in faking it until you make it because it always comes through," says Kirschner. The biggest tell? The language you use. When you use a word that doesn't seem like it should come out of your mouth, it takes the audience out of your story because now they're not concentrating on the story you're telling. "They're wondering why you just used that word and maybe even wondering what that word means," he says. "It does you a disservice."
Control your breathing
Slow down and speak deliberately. Not only will it help you articulate your words, but it will also help regulate your breathing. "If I'm speaking too quickly, I forget to breathe, so I feel this buildup of pressure in my chest," says Kirshner. "I'm no longer thinking about what I'm supposed to be saying because I'm distracted by needing to take a breath." Try deliberately slowing down your pace with a dramatic pause or disguise a deep breath in the dialogue of the story.
Dress for comfort
Speaking of authenticity, now is not the time to try out a bold plaid or a neon stripe if it's not you. What you display on the outside has everything to do with how you feel on the inside, so wear an outfit that feels comfortable, flattering and neat. "Don't wear something that doesn't suit you or makes you feel uncomfortable because you think it's what people expect of you," says Kirshner. A suit or a trendy look bolsters your spirit as much as it undermines your confidence. That's why depending on the audience, Kirshner is more apt to don a simple T-shirt or a solid sweater and a simple pair of jeans or chinos. "You don't want people distracted by what you're wearing," he says. "You want them focused on your message." Since working with Dockers, the versatile Supreme Flex chinos have become his go-to pants to help him move with ease.
Tell a story
Don't think of your presentation as reciting a bunch of words—think if it as sharing a story. When you have the storytelling mindset, people pay attention to what you say—whether it's "I'm going to tell you a story about how we're going to increase sales by ten percent" or "I'm going to tell you a story about the competitive landscape." There should be a clear beginning, middle and end, says Kirschner. "I want to deliver that talk in a way that's going to be enjoyable for the audience," he says. "I want to surprise and delight them."
Even if you dominated the room last time, your presentation days aren't over if you want continued victories. "There's no better way to become more comfortable in front of an audience than doing it more often," says Kirshner. "That's what training means." Maybe it's joining Toastmasters International, raising your hand to ask a question at a book reading Q&A session, or volunteering to go first at a company event. Just doing something that puts yourself out there and takes you out of your comfort zone is the best way to remain verbally agile and poised for success.
Make sure to look into
the eyes of your audience
It will make you feel more relaxed because you can focus on a single person at a time and not a sea of faces. Plus, when your eyes wander, they take in random, extraneous images that are sent to your brain, slowing down your train of thought.