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Indians are not trained to present effectively hence we do not.  The good news is that giving public presentations is not as difficult as you might think.  You can start at any age and do really well.

I myself was forced to learn the art of presentation after a bitter experience.  I never had to give a presentation in India (my project presentation was also a group affair).  My first major seminar in the US was in my second semester in Carnegie Mellon.  Every graduate student was required to present his/her work in front of the entire department 2 to 3 times during their stay and that was my first time.

I was presenting in front of 20 faculty members and 100 students, most of whom were foreigners.

I stood in front of the crowd and felt the tremor in my voice and posture (I later came to know that the entire room felt it too!!!).  I started saying something and in two minutes, I stopped. I forgot the language, the subject and the everything else.  I wanted to bury myself in the ground or run away or do something extreme.  I took a deep breath.  I said loudly, "wait a minute" and I just waited for a whole minute.  I took another deep breath and started talking.

For the next 20 minutes, I spoke with a single aim: to complete the presentation somehow or the other.  Nobody, including myself understood what I was saying!  My advisor was visibly embarrassed.  I got one of the lowest evaluations in my batch.

It was humiliating.  Here I was with a lot of exciting research results to report, and an elite audience willing to listen to everything I had to say.  I just made a mess of the opportunity.

Then started my training sessions.  My advisor worked with me for hours to put me on the right track.  I learned certain general strategies of public speaking and some strategies that are very specific to me.  I put forth all my learning in this article.

  • Write while you speak

I figured out that an American speaks very slowly when he/she is tense and an Indian speaks very fast in a similar situation.  On an average, we speak fast and we speak faster when we are under stress.  So, how can we reduce the speed of delivery?  The best way is to write the main headings or some points either on the board or transparency while speaking. 

Writing serves to slow down the process of uninterrupted talking.  So, use this as a natural speed breaker in your public seminars.

  • Speak to an individual

Look at the audience in the first two minutes to identify a face that you find most receptive.  Just imagine that you are speaking to him/her through the rest of the seminar.  There are some individuals who always sleep in a seminar.  There are some who are so nice that they listen to you however boring your seminar may be.  Keep looking at the latter often to build your confidence.

  • Pay avid attention to your first two minutes on stage

The most critical part of your presentation is the first two minutes.  This is when you are most tense and your audience is most willing to listen to you.  You have to optimize both.  The best way is to introduce yourself in a manner that is interesting and catchy.

In the personality development seminars that I give, I start by saying "In the past 15 years, from a rural Telugu medium school, I went to Carnegie Mellon, participated in a missile building program for the Indian defence and started a multi-million dollar company.  Today, I am going to tell you how you can do better than this in the next fifteen years". 

Some people start off by cracking a joke and that is not a bad idea to break the ice.  Whatever your path may be, your biggest challenge in public speaking is in making the first two minutes interesting.

  • Practice

It always pays to practice at least twice before a presentation.  The first practice will most probably make you feel miserable.  It will be pathetic.  But by the second one itself you will show a lot of improvement and then on stage, you will be even better.  However, as you become more experienced, the need for practice sessions goes down.

  • Look at the audience

Keep looking at the people you are speaking to and try to smile or show emotions.  Change the modulations of your speech if possible.  Let there be some movement in your position.  A still person, with a monotonous voice without any emotions has another name too: A sleeping pill.

  • Take care of your obvious idiosyncrasies

I used to oscillate like a simple pendulum (my feet being the fixed end and my head the moving end) while giving a seminar.  Too much of such periodic motion used to obviously cause strain to my audience.  I had to work carefully to stop that motion.

The best way is to let your friends tell you what your obvious mistakes are and then you can rectify them.

  • Do not read out your transparencies/pages

I usually do not repeat even a single word that is already on my slide.  People sometimes complain that this makes it difficult to relate the speech to what is on the slide.  But, what is worse is someone reading out what is already shown on the screen.  It is very boring.

So, strike a balance.  Read important numbers, points only to emphasize their importance.  The rest, let the audience read while you are narrating it more interestingly.

  • Assume the user has zero background 

Most Indian seminars have one common feature: they are delivered for intellectuals by people trying to look intellectual.  People can only grasp simple things seminars.  Keep it that way and more importantly realize that the purpose of the seminar is not to show off your brilliance to the listener.  It is actually to explain the topic. 

You may not realize it but by explaining tough ideas in an easy manner, you will convince most people of your brilliance.  Make your transparencies also that way.  Keep them neat, clean and easy to read.

So, that is it friends.  
Follow these simple guidelines and 
become more effective speakers.

For those interested in my communication career after that disaster, I won two best speaker awards in international seminars, never scored anything less than the first rank in a course if it demanded a seminar, was the invited speaker in more than 10 seminars in the past year.  My best public speaking effort, however, was the 6 hour-long seminar that I gave on "E-commerce and entrepreneurship" that got me huge seed funding for my companies.

Well, sometimes simple strategies work wonders!!


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