When it comes to safety training, are you the kind of instructor your students can have confidence in? When you look at them, do you feel they understand what you are telling them? If the answer to these questions is “no” — or you’re not sure — here are seven suggestions that will help make you a more confident, effective speaker when called upon to give a training presentation.

1) Know your audience — Before speaking, get to know who your audience will be. Will it be all plant workers? Will there be families in the audience? Age variations? All men or all women or a mixed group? What, if any, are their common interests? Are they all members of the same organization or do they come from all over? Will it be a small group of about ten people or a larger gathering of several hundred? Knowing this information will help you customize your presentation for that group.

2) Know your subject — Write your presentation out word for word in long-hand. Then type it on the computer and label it “draft 1.” Read it over, out loud, and delete, edit and rewrite anything that doesn’t belong or needs improving. Make the changes and label it “draft 2.” Read it over again and make changes again — “draft 3.” Present the information to a test audience (e.g., your spouse and/or children) without reading the information. How did you do? Tell your audience: what you are going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them.

3) Know your presentation style — How are you in front of a group? Stiff or relaxed? Do you make eye contact? Do you use gestures? Do you move around? Do you change your vocal volume?

Do you tell stories or just read? Get comfortable with your style.

4) Dress — Regardless of how other people are dressed, you as the trainer/presenter should be slightly better dressed. If the audience is coming in sport shirts and jeans, male presenters should wear good slacks and a shirt and tie. Females should wear a dress, conservative in length and not bright colors, unless you’re a motivational speaker or your topic is color.

5) Eye contact — This is the skill of making everyone in an audience of 100 people think that you are talking to them and only them. You do this by moving your eyes and head. Pick out someone on the third row, left, and talk to them for 3-5 seconds. Then move to the 10th row, middle left. Talk to them for 3-5 seconds and move your eyes again. Keep up this routine, scanning across the audience and moving from back to front. Even if you have problems getting the message out of your mouth, if your eyes are clear and focused on your audience, they will get your message.

6) Movement — This can be broken down into thee types as follows:

  • Moving around the stage or platform. If there is a lectern or podium, begin there but don’t stay there. Moving out from behind the podium shows you know your material and are confident. Walk from one side of the stage to the other, talking and making eye contact with people throughout the entire audience. You will be perceived as an approachable speaker.

  • Gestures. Gestures add action to your words. For example, if you are making three points, then raise your hand and count off the three points with your fingers.

  • Body language. How you stand, the tilt of your head, the position of your arms and legs…all of this speaks for you even if you are not talking, and it says a lot. For example: If a student asks you a question and you stand with your legs apart and your hands on your hips you give a defiant stance that says, “I don’t care what you have to say. I’ve told you and that’s it!” Conversely, by standing with your feet together and your arms hanging down and slightly away from your body and palms out, you take a position of openness to the audience.

    7) Verbal action — Do you only use one and two syllable words or do you, like Pete Seeger, use sesquipedalian terminology to obfuscate the rumination (i.e. one-and-a-half-foot words tend to confuse one’s thoughts)? Raise and lower the volume of your voice. If you don’t know what you will say next, don’t fill the void with words like “um,” “well” and “you know.” Instead, stop, take a breath, check your notes or move your eye contact, get your next thought and speak.

    It is said that stage fright is nothing more than butterflies in your stomach. Once you can get those butterflies going in the same direction, you will overcome your stage fright and everything else will be easy.

    SIDEBAR: Question from the audience?

    Q: How do you answer a question from the group without losing the rest of the audience as you answer that one question?

    A: Acknowledge the question by looking at the audience member who asked it. Move across the stage and repeat the question, looking at other people. Proceed to answer the question all the while maintaining eye contact with various audience members.