Do you feel butterflies in your stomach before you speak to a crowd? The best way to overcome public speaking anxiety is to prepare. The more you prepare, the more confident you’ll be. The more confident you are, the more relaxed you and your audience will feel. The more relaxed you feel, the greater your ability to incorporate humour and storytelling.
Rule No. 1: It’s all about the audience.
In creating your presentation, can you see who has signed up to hear you speak? Do you know their job titles? If your presentation is online — say, I don’t know, during a pandemic — are people joining from around the world?
Your presentation will be more effective if you speak to the audience in a way that relates to current social and economic factors, and their role in the profession. Give them what they want.
Even if you don’t know who will attend, craft your presentation simply and directly. Presentations are not about sharing every great idea you’ve ever had. Even an audience that loves numbers doesn’t want to be bombarded with data.
Rule No. 2: Don’t strive for perfection.
You’re human and allowed to make mistakes. You may get tongue-tied or realise that data is slightly outdated on a slide.
Practice ahead of time to smooth out the ‘show flow’ and verbal delivery. If you can, practice in front of a camera. A video is a great feedback tool.
And remember — the audience members are human, too. They may not be as harsh as your inner critic.
Rule No. 3: Keep their attention with storytelling.
In the article, Storytelling: A Must-Have Tool for Financial Advisors, Rosemary Smyth and Aaron Hoos say, ‘Stories communicate facts in a compelling way, wrapping those facts in emotion, which is something that adds a “human angle” to information that might otherwise quickly be forgotten’.
By sharing a personal anecdote or a real-life example, you add a human element and incorporate emotion into the content. In Beyond the Numbers: Perfecting the Art of Financial Storytelling, Geoffrey Mogilner discusses how storytelling powerfully provides information that can’t be gleaned with charts, graphs and spreadsheets.
Rule No. 4: Paint with numbers.
Think of presentations as needing color to fill empty spaces. In childhood, did you paint by number — when areas on the canvas have a number and a corresponding numbered color to use? Maybe now you paint by numbers as a fun quarantine activity.
You can make your presentation vibrant by telling the story behind the numbers. Percentages and figures are important, but your audience will stay engaged and remember more content when they understand what the numbers mean and what action should be taken as a result.
For example, a 25% increase in profit is helpful information to share, but how and why did this increase come about? Are there lessons learned from this growth? Is there a person or team that should be recognised for achievement? Has similar growth happened before at a similar time of year? Present the facts with context to paint a vivid picture.
Rule No. 5: Use visuals.
Visuals enhance data and hold an audience’s attention. You can make the data relatable with graphs and pie charts, or even pictures, cartoons or memes that enhance the data points.
Note of caution: Avoid creating busy slides. Too many visuals are distracting, and the audience needs to immediately understand the images on the slide. If it takes more than five seconds to comprehend the visual, you’ve lost the audience. This leads us to …
Rule No. 6: Keep it simple.
Use direct speech to simplify technical information. Avoid jargon, colloquialisms and acronyms. Metaphors are fun but be mindful of cultural differences and cultural sensitivities.
Your audience is likely to include people with varying years of work experience, in varying roles and — because we’re a global community — of varying maternal languages. How would someone who speaks one or more languages other than English receive your information?
Deliver a powerful financial presentation by incorporating storytelling and visuals and simplifying the message.