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Don't Let Your Shirt Look Like a Prune (and Other Public Speaking Tips)

Don't Let Your Shirt Look Like a Prune (and Other Public Speaking Tips)
Throughout my career I have spent time in front of small and large groups of people. Taking a group on a tour through the Sonoran desert, teaching English to young adults in Vietnam, and facilitating the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program has kept me in front of people and in the spotlight.

While that can be a little intimidating at times, I’ve learned through trial and error how to keep the stress at bay. I’ve also learned about some of the finer points of being a public speaker and about audience perceptions. Whether you’re a CPI Certified Instructor getting ready to teach a group, or anybody concerned with public speaking, here are some things to consider.

“Put the water bottle down and slowly back away!”
I find that constantly sipping from a water bottle is a complete distraction for the audience. It takes away from the speaker’s message and image. I’ve seen million-dollar speakers in thousand-dollar outfits make themselves look very poor when doing this.

I usually try and make sure I have a plastic cup available near me so I can simply pour myself a glass of water from the bottle when necessary. Better yet, a pitcher of water with a clean glass harkens back to the good old days when there were (oh no! perish the thought!) no such things as plastic water bottles. And somehow we still managed to survive. Ditch the water bottle and you’ll have one less distraction yourself.

Don't let your shirt look like a prune.
There are few things more exasperating for a public speaker than to leave the house with pressed or ironed clothes, only to arrive at the speaking engagement wrinkled like a prune! Personally, I hate ironing as it is. But wrinkled clothing makes a speaker look disheveled. It’s an image thing, just like chugging water from a plastic bottle while you have your best outfit on. It just doesn’t look professional to go unpressed.

I’ve often brought my unwrinkled things along with me on a hanger in the car and changed once I got to my destination. At a minimum, if I’m wearing a suit jacket or sport coat, I’ll hang those in the car while I drive to my destination. It’s more comfortable that way anyway. Purchasing wrinkle-resistant clothing is also an option, but the variety of those clothes may be limited.

Using space is important.
Speakers whose feet are glued to the floor can quickly lose a group. I'll often move up and down the aisle while giving out information. It’s a great way to create some intimacy with your audience and an easy way to generate “proximity control.” Another way I’ve used space is to nonchalantly back away from a participant or audience member while they’re asking a question. This requires them to increase the volume of their voice so more of the audience can hear. It also gets others involved in the conversation on a visual level. On the other hand, I have colleagues who will move closer to the person with the question or comment. This compels others in the group to turn around and see what the discussion is all about. It really comes down to what your own style is.

Travel with care.
I like to bring a “medicine bag” with me when I go to speaking engagements. Just a small tote filled with items like chewing gum, hand sanitizer, lotion, eye drops, lip balm, headache medicine, and antacids. Let’s not forget the ever popular “stain away” quick wipes for those lunchtime calamities. While I can live without the aforementioned items, it’s amazing how something so seemingly minor like dry eyes or chapped lips can sidetrack a facilitator from the task at hand. Just knowing that I have them gives me one less thing to worry about. And what better way to connect with someone in your group than when you can offer them a little something for whatever ailment they have?

What are your suggestions for facilitating or public speaking? Every trainer or speaker usually has his or her two or three favorite suggestions. I’d love to hear yours!
 
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