A few years ago I found myself walking onto a stage to deliver a presentation to a large audience. This was my first presentation to such a large group - there were more than 250 participants in this room - and I felt myself break out in a cold sweat as my heart began to race. Even though I knew the content like the back of my hand, the thought of so many people staring at me and eagerly waiting for my nuggets of wisdom left me feeling nervous and inadequate.
Years later, I look back on that experience and I am grateful that my confidence has grown and I can speak to groups of any size with a calm and enthusiastic heart. Years of practice have served me well, along with lessons learned from John Maxwell's Law of Preparation. Allow me to share a few of these lessons with you today.
First, take a moment to reflect on a recent speaking or teaching opportunity. Perhaps you spoke to a large group in a brightly lit ballroom, or maybe you led a training session for a small group of coworkers. How did you approach that presentation? Did you rely on a natural talent to deliver your content? Did you prepare your talking points in advance, or improvise them on the spot? Put another way: Do you work for it, or do you wing it? I like to reflect on this line from John Maxwell whenever I am tempted to skimp on my preparation:
"You cannot deliver what you have not developed."
John Maxwell, The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication
If you aren't already familiar, John Maxwell is a leadership author and speaker with more than 80 books published and 40 years of experience in public speaking. John has shared his messages with audiences of all sizes more than 13,000 times since he first started as the pastor at a small church. As John likes to say, "Any message I want to deliver must speak to me before I deliver it to others."
Let's take a look at a few of John's principles of communication, from his Law of Preparation:
1. Empower Your Audience
What action do you want your audience to take after they hear your message? You can maximize the impact of your presentation by encouraging the audience to take action in their own lives and share what they have learned with others. I have been fortunate to attend several Maxwell Leadership conferences, and let me tell you that those audiences are empowered. You can hear a pin drop when John speaks, and I have notebooks full of his insights which I have passed on to others.
2. Prepare the Subject
Take time to outline your message and write out an introduction. Think about how you will deliberately connect with the crowd before you dive into the body of your message. You can incorporate quotes, illustrations, and stories to bring life to your presentation. John maintains an entire library of ideas, quotes, and stories, all categorized on index cards in his office for easy reference when he writes his presentations. I grew up on a farm, so I like to refer back to those experiences when I share lessons with others.
3. Use Questions
Ask yourself questions to evaluate your message. Do my words connect with the hearts of my audience? Do I live out my message? What would have to happen for me to consider this presentation a "win?" As John points out, it is extremely difficult for a speaker to convince an audience of theories that he has not lived and tested himself. While you speak, ask questions to evaluate your effectiveness. Am I confident and comfortable delivering this message? Am I connecting with my audience? Do they seem engaged? Pay attention to which parts of the presentation seem to work, and which parts do not. You may even choose to ask colleagues to evaluate your presentation and share their feedback.
4. Self Evaluation
After your presentation, reflect on the experience - this is a great way to prepare yourself for the next opportunity. Ask questions like, did I achieve my objectives today? Did I help the participants? Are they likely to take action? How can I upgrade this presentation for the next time? Look for ways to continually improve your presentations, and you will see growth over time. I have found it helpful to seek input from impressive speakers in my life and then practice, practice, practice.
"All great speakers were bad speakers at first."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
One book that significantly helped me boost my own confidence was "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Dr. Susan Jeffers. This book was recommended to me when I was in the early stages of delivering presentations, and its lessons were instrumental in teaching me to overcome my fear before each speaking opportunity. John Maxwell has written that excellence is the result of repeated practice and we should remember to fail early, fail often, and fail forward. These words ring true in my life, and they motivate me to focus on continuous development. I grow myself by working for it, not winging it.
When it comes to public speaking, preparation is everything and I want to be prepared to bring value to those who are willing to receive it.