Several years ago, determined to confront my fear of public speaking, I entered a local Moth competition. The Moth shows are held throughout the country and presented nationally on The Moth Radio Hour on more than 450 stations. The local events require you to tell a story based on a theme in five minutes with absolutely no notes. 

I had a month to prepare for the challenge. As a journalist, I figured the best thing would be to approach it as any other story I wanted to tell: I would write it as an article. Then I began memorizing the piece. I practiced in the shower. I practiced while driving my car. I practiced just walking around the house, and eventually, I practiced my speech in front of my friends. 

By the time I was called up to the stage, I was so comfortable with the material that I could easily take tangents from my scripted speech without losing my place in the plot. I sounded like I was simply telling a story, rather than mechanically repeating each word as written. I didn’t win, but I was in the top three, and the experience gave me a new appreciation for public speaking. 

As meeting and event planners, you’re more used to shining the spotlight on others than seeking it yourself. But your knowledge is a hot commodity, and more than likely at some point in your career, if they haven’t already, other planners will be asking you to share it. For those of you who, like me, are a tad tentative at the prospect, I asked Paul George, president of Seattle General Toastmasters, for some tips you can use next time you’re asked to lead a workshop, preside over a conference or present a speech in a ballroom packed with your colleagues. 

Don’t Read Your Speech

“The last thing you want to do is just read the presentation; that’s the worst thing you can do,” says George. He recommends using notes (or an outline for more advanced speakers), double spacing the words, and using a large, bold font so that you can easily find your place while at the podium. 

Edit While Practicing

“Condense your presentation as tight as you can get it because it will be more impactful that way,” suggests George. The best way to do this is to edit it while you’re practicing, cutting words, phrases or sections that are superfluous. 

Make Eye Contact

“We have a saying in Toastmasters that we call the lighthouse gaze. … The person sits at the front of the stage and he or she just constantly moves his or her head from left to right, never focusing on anyone in the audience. You want to give your presentation, immaterial to how large the audience is … you want to pick people out in the audience that you’re speaking to. And you want to connect with that person with your gaze for five or 10 seconds and then you gradually shift your gaze to another person in the audience,” says George.

Don’t Just Jump into Your Presentation

“When you begin a presentation the most important thing you can do is acknowledge the audience. You say, ‘Good morning ladies and gentleman, I’m delighted to be here this morning.’” He says it gives your audience the ability to tune into your speaking style and cadence.

Get Help with Your ‘Uhs’ and ‘Ums’

At his Toastmaster meetings, George says they sound a set of castanets every time a speaker hems or haws. He suggests speakers have friends or colleagues use similar tools to help rid them of their distracting interjections. 

Use Humor

“Humor always wins,” says George. “I don’t care how serious your speech is, the most important and valuable thing you can do is inflect your presentation with humor.”

George says individuals who are serious about improving their presentation skills should also check out their neighborhood Toastmaster club meetings, which can be found at seattlegeneral. “To me that’s the most valuable thing I can say. [The clubs] are all over the world. … It’s just the best organization. It’s a fascinating, wonderful experience.”

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