In a word: prepare.
While it is impossible to ensure that every presentation will go smoothly, there are definitely steps you can take to help stack the deck in your favor.
- Don’t accept speaking invitations for which you are unqualified or unprepared. Don’t let your ego get in the way.
- If you spoke to the same tough group or in the same difficult setting before, ask yourself: What did I learn from the experience?
- Think twice about giving breakfast speeches if you are not a morning person, or evening presentations if you like to retire early.
- Do your homework about the audience (demographics, knowledge of the subject matter, special interests or concerns, etc.); ask the sponsoring organization if there are any red flags about the audience you should be aware of (forewarned is forearmed).
- Ask others who have spoken to the organization what it was like, and what you can learn from their experience.
- If you accept the speaking invitation, know what you want to accomplish with your remarks.
- Know the basics about the speaking opportunity (format, length of your presentation, time, location, etc.).
- Arrive early so you can get a feel for the room where you will be speaking, greet and chat with people as they arrive, etc.
- Make sure that the layout of the room is to your liking and meets your needs (classroom-style, theatre-style, roundtables, etc.).
- When you arrive, check with your host to ensure the arrangements, purpose and topic of your presentation have not changed.
- Know where things are, such as lights, microphones and audio controls, AC and heating controls, water, restrooms, etc.
- Ensure that you and your audience will be comfortable by checking the heat or AC settings, microphone settings, lighting levels, extraneous or distracting noise, etc.
- Check out any that stairs you must climb to get on or off the stage. This will help you to avoid tripping over unfamiliar steps.
- Don’t tell jokes unless you’ve already proven that you can tell jokes well. There’s nothing funny about no one laughing at your jokes.
- Make sure your audience can see you. Don’t hide behind the podium.
- Do not hide your gestures. Keep your hands up where your audience can see them!
- Maintain a good posture when standing or sitting. No slouching!
- If audience members do not have access to a microphone, be sure to repeat questions before answering them. This helps ensure everyone in the room hears what was asked.
- Respond honestly to questions. It’s okay to say "I don’t know."
- Don’t allow one person to monopolize the session. ("Let’s meet afterwards to talk about this.")
- Summarize/rephrase lengthy questions for the audience. ("Let me make sure that I understand what you are asking...")
- Do not allow Q&A sessions to drag on. Signal to your audience that the session is almost over. ("We have time for one more question.")