Recently, I coached an Ornithologist (bird expert) in preparation for a conference. He was new to the world of public speaking and hundreds of people were expected to come hear his talk.

Step 1: Know your audience.

He was nervous.
During our first session together, I discovered that not only did he need help crafting his talk, but also with delivering it. I assured him that neither of these processes would be painful. We were already ahead of the game because his talk would be focused on something he was passionate about: Birds of the Pacific Northwest. As an avid bird lover, I knew he could really drive the talk home. After all, the room would be filled with other “bird nerds” (his term, not mine), colleagues and friends.

Step 2: Know your limitations, but focus on your strengths.

Still, he was nervous.
As we began to sort out the order of his presentation, I discovered that his nervousness wasn’t so much around speaking in front of a crowd. It was because he had trouble reading. He has Dyslexia that, as an adult, still gives him trouble today when he is anxious or stressed.

Step 3: Keep it simple.

He was nervous because he didn’t think he could follow a written speech.
I worked with him on paring down the prepared speech we worked on during our first two sessions together. Paring speeches down is an effective method in helping presenters with reading and writing challenges. The less they have to “read”, the better. Plus, with coaching support, presenters are often able to recall their presentation without too many written prompts. In my client’s case, he would have a Power Point presentation to accompany his talk, and the imagery within would prompt him easily.

The first step was to craft the speech with rich content. The second step was to pare it down into bullet points and link it to the slides in the presentation itself. Finally, I pared the presentation down into 8 simple keywords for him to follow. Because he has challenges around reading, I gave him a one-sheet with the 8 words on it, each written in a different color, to help him find the word and know what it meant instantly.

Step 4: Be yourself.

In our coaching sessions, we worked on associating the color of the word with the bird appearing in the next slide. Once we had that down, I was able to coach him on getting comfortable behind the lectern, using a microphone and just plain being himself. Being yourself, even when you’re nervous, is more than ok. It’s critical. Your audience will resonate with you and your presentation more if you bring your personality and humor to the talk. Once you get going, the nerves often fade away. I also showed my client effective vocal exercises to help him prepare and get focused. I also had him do a few silly and fun grounding exercises to help shake the nerves.

After just a few sessions, we had a list of words to represent his presentation, a colorful and interesting visual presentation to accompany it, and a speaker who was ready to rock it.

Step 5: Don’t forget to breathe!

My final directive to my client was to practice breathing while delivering his speech. I found, as we worked together, that he tended to hold his breath as he delivered the content. When he was conscious of his breath, and with practice, his delivery flowed naturally and easily.

His presentation went off without a hitch and here’s what he had to say about working with me:

“Your patience and obvious skills right off the bat helped me get my footing for this presentation. I even had fun presenting to the audience! Thank you for sharing tools and exercises that I will use in all of my presentations to come- and I can’t wait to do the next one.”

If you need help with delivering a killer presentation to your audiences, let me know. A little coaching can go a long way.