Enhancing interpersonal communication skills can greatly assist novice and nervous presenters. Specifically, small talk can serve as a perfect crucible for developing useful presentation skills. Small talk represents the casual communication we have with friends, colleagues, and family; it tends to be more spontaneous with lower stakes than our planned, more consequential communication. In practicing purposeful small talk, you develop skills such as connecting to those with whom you communicate as well as adjusting on the fly to their responses. The ability to connect and adjust will serve you well when presenting and managing Q&A. If nothing else, your confidence should increase as you become more comfortable with these skills.
Like any skill, small talk can be practiced and techniques can be employed to help. I recently came across advice for effective small talk from Psychology Professor Bernardo Carducci who is the Director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. Dr. Carducci provides eight tips for improving small talk. I will highlight just three of his suggestions that apply directly to small talk, but provide value to presenters as well:
1. Dare to be dull. This is great advice for any speaker and comes directly from improvisation. Too often, speakers want every utterance to be deeply meaningful and impactful. This desire to be brilliant often makes you more nervous and involves a lot of internal evaluation, which takes away from your ability to connect to those with whom you are speaking. In small talk, a simple greeting or acknowledgement can suffice.
2. Have themes ready. A little pre-work can go a long way. Prior to communicating, have two or three key ideas that you want to convey. Further, have some concrete examples to support your themes. In small talk, have some positions or ideas about current events or upcoming activities.
3. Practice commencing. Initiating communication is hard. Rehearse your opening so that you are comfortable with how you will start. Be careful not to sound scripted, though. I suggest practicing your opening a few times being sure to use different wording each time. In small talk, a good way to initiate a conversation is via a greeting followed by your name or credentials.
As with any skill, practice breads competence and confidence. By working on your small talk skills you not only improve your interpersonal communication, but your presentations as well.