Secrets of great public speaking
Tips on beating stage fright, plus how much PowerPoint is too much when giving a speech?
By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: Please settle an argument. I have to give a speech in 10 days to all the division heads in my company - the first time I have been asked to do this, so I'm pretty nervous about it - and I've spent a lot of time putting together a detailed PowerPoint presentation with charts and graphs, music, photos, some cartoons for comic relief, etc. A colleague (and friend) says I have too much visual stuff and it will just distract people. He thinks I should get rid of about half my PowerPoint presentation and focus on speaking well. Are there any rules about this? If so, what are they? -Stage Fright

Dear Fright: There aren't any hard-and-fast rules that I know of, but I consulted a nifty new book called The Elements of Great Public Speaking: How to Be Calm, Confident, and Compelling ($11.95, Ten Speed Press), and it turns out that author J. Lyman MacInnis - a communications coach with over 40 years' experience - agrees with your colleague.


"You wouldn't want another speaker at the podium talking at the same time as you, would you?" MacInnis writes. "Well, sophisticated audiovisuals can be just about the same thing, or maybe worse."

"Too much light, sound, and imagery will reduce you to a faceless technician," he adds. "You want the audience to go away talking about you and what you had to say; you don't want them to remember only the great show."

Relying too much on visual pizzazz may convey the (perhaps accurate) idea that you lack self-confidence. Consider that most CEOs don't use visual aids except as a static backdrop, such as the company name and logo.

"The more visual aids you use, the less you come across as a leader," MacInnis says.

If you must use a few charts and graphs to make essential points, proceed carefully: MacInnis's book gives a succinct 16-point checklist, including these two tips: Deal with just one main point per slide; and don't talk with your back or side turned to the audience while looking at something up on a screen. Incidentally, The Elements of Great Public Speaking also tells how to deal with stage fright.

"There is no such thing as a 'natural' speaker," according to MacInnis. Seeming like one just takes practice. "All speakers, even the most accomplished you've ever heard, have had to overcome some level of fear and have acquired their skills over a period of time."

Good to know. Before you stand up in front of all those division heads, practice giving your speech - to friends, family, the dog, whoever will listen. The more you rehearse beforehand, the more comfortable you'll be. Good luck!

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