Presenter Verbal Skills

Welcome back …. and not just to my blog, but welcome back to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  We were here just three weeks ago and now we’re back.  From my previous writing, you know how blessed I feel to be here.  We’re on campus this week teaching another set of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Train-the-Trainer and Program Manager classes.

Before we get started talking about our training, I want to tell you about my travel here.  The flights were great.  The fine folks at Southwest were as friendly as usual, and both of my flights were on time.  And hey, no cost for two checked bags!  Also, it was a light travel day so the planes I flew on weren’t jammed.

My flight from St. Louis took me to Detroit, Michigan which for me was ideal.  My brief 40-minute lay-over allowed me to visit the National Coney Island and get a “coney” with fries and a drink.  For those not familiar with Detroit, the “coney” is a regional “delicacy”.  Now, it’s not just a hot dog with chili.  It’s MUCH better than that, and all I can say is man, that first, second, third, and forth bite was sooooo good.  I should have ordered two!  If you are ever in the Detroit area, make sure you have a “coney”.  Sorry, but the best I can do now is share a picture and a memory.

So today we started our first of three days of Train-the-Trainer and I instructed a unit titled “The Role of an Instructor.

The Role of an Instructor

This unit has two key ideas that it is built around:

  1. The various roles of a training instructor and the qualities that he or she should possess.
  2. What qualities and attributes an instructor needs to possess and learn in order to be most effective.

One of the roles a CERT training instructor fulfills is that of a presenter.  In our training we say that “when someone speaks of a good presenter, the qualities they are generally talking about include:

  • Sincere
  • Enthusiastic
  • Lively
  • Expressive
  • Interesting
  • Assertive
  • Convincing
  • Credible
  • Confident
  • Poised
  • Professional
  • Funny
  • Accepting

Bottom line, they need to be an effective communicator.

One of the most important tools  an effective presenter depends on is his/her presentation skills.  I thought I’d spend time today, and this week, addressing several of the qualities and attributes of an effective presenter, and today we’ll start by talking about verbal skills.

It’s no secret that many people have a terrific fear of speaking in public.  I think that fear exists for many because they simply don’t have the chance to learn and practice.  To help get over that fear, I recommend to my students that they seek out opportunities to learn, practice, and develop.  Two widely recognized opportunities would be taking public speaking classes at a local community college or other higher education institution, or joining a group like Toastmasters.  Another source of information (and training) would be from a vendor like Communispond .  The fine folks at Communispond were kind enough to share with me a few ideas on how one can improve their presentation skills.

Fight or Flight

When you present, does your heartbeat accelerate? Do you get butterflies or a knot in your stomach? Do your muscles feel tight? Walter Bradford Cannon, M.D., coined the term “fight or flight” in 1915 to describe an animal’s response to threats.

This term explains a lot as it relates to giving presentations. When you step in front of your audience, your digestive system is disrupted, your muscles contract, and your blood pressure elevates. On top of that, a whole bunch of chemical reactions kick in. It would be easier to run than to face the unknown of your audience. To counteract these symptoms:

  • Avoid caffeine and sugar-your body already has a heightened awareness and doesn’t need any more energy
  • Walk around backstage or out in the hall to work off some of the nervous energy
  • Swing your arms in circles
  • Shake out your hands
  • Relax your shoulders (you might try a yoga exercise)
  • Take a deep breath before you begin

Then, when you step in front of your audience, you’ll feel less threatened when presenting and be able to hold your ground without “fighting or fleeing.” Speaking with strong volume when you present will keep your audience more engaged than speaking at a soft volume level. But how do you speak loudly enough so everyone can hear you easily without straining your voice or damaging your vocal cords?

Speaking loudly enough

  • When you speak, relax your tongue. Create a big open space in your mouth and the back of your throat- imagine a space big enough for you to swallow a ping pong ball.
  • Make sure you breathe from your diaphragm so you support your voice.

Doing these two simple things should help you speak loudly enough without strain. Your audience will hear you easily and will continue to listen to your message.

Microphones Amplify Monotone

Presenters assume that using a microphone will enhance their voice, so they get close to it and go into their lounge act. Far from adding color to your voice, however, most microphones take some of the color out; they don’t capture the full range and resonance of your voice. Microphones don’t make you sound more interesting; and, they only amplify a monotone. When you’re presenting to a large audience and need to use a microphone, follow these tips:

  • Position the microphone at least six inches from your mouth.
  • Speak up. Project so that the first rows of your audience can hear you without the amplification.
  • Deliver your message with passion, energy and enthusiasm.
  • Let the sound engineer ride the volume control.

Your audience will love you because you’ll sound more interesting, you’ll hold their attention, and your message will be easier to follow.

Use Plain, Simple Language

What Mark Twain wrote in 1880 in a letter to D.W. Bowser applies to presenting today: “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in…”

When you present, keep it simple. Beware of jargon, buzzwords, and long convoluted sentences. You don’t have to speak in business-speak to have an impact; in fact, you’ll be more effective the clearer and simpler you are. Ask yourself, “What’s the critical information my audience needs to know?” Ask, “What’s the best way to communicate this information to them?” Then select words and sentences that get that message through-plain and simple.

You’ll increase your credibility with your audience because you’ll make it easy for them to understand your key messages and take the action you want them to take.

Find the Right Words

Nothing makes a presentation or meeting harder to listen to than a presenter who stumbles to find the right words, instead using a lot of filler words like “umm,” “ahh,” and “so.”

While we use these fillers to help kill time while we think of our next thought, they don’t allow us to put our best foot forward. Here are a few tips that will help you to reduce the fillers and find the right words:

  • Do not fear silence, which always seems much longer to you than to your audience. A brief pause can help you gather your thoughts before you continue.
  • Create a list of attendees and deliver a single thought or sentence to each attendee, just as you would use your eye-brain control with an audience that’s in the room with you.
  • Speak louder than you normally would on the phone. This is a presentation after all, and the phone’s internal works will adapt. Speaking loudly makes you more aware of each “um” and “er,” so you’ll use them less.

Whether you’re a CERT instructor, an instructor of other classes, a business continuity manager, or a leader, you’ll need to present material to others.  Hopefully, with the information I’ve included in this blog, you will become a better presenter.

So, here’s some pictures from our class yesterday along with a National “coney”.  Come back tomorrow and we’ll continue on with our class as well as other qualities and attributes of an effective presenter.

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One Response to Presenter Verbal Skills

  1. Sue Lamb says:

    Hi Tim,
    I always find your blog interesting and ‘just right’. You posted several pictures from the current CERT 3T class. Do you mind if I use a couple of these in an upcoming presentation I’m doing on the value of ‘resident training’?

    Have a great week. -Sue Lamb /Yamhill County EM Reserve Staff

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