Next Friday, you have an important meeting scheduled for 11.00 am. And you are already starting to stress out. How will you be persuasive, convincing? How can you make good use of your speaking time? Who should you look at? And when? What sort of body language should you adopt? Professor of public speaking at HEC, Bertrand Périer gives his advice on how to keep stress at bay.

Follow the rules

A capacity for public speaking may be, in some measure, a natural gift. But there are also some rules to know and put into practice. For example, when you express yourself, your speech must be clear and to the point. Be careful not to talk at every turn but say nothing of any value. The quality of the message establishes respect for the other people in the room. Secondly, try to look at each of the people you are addressing, rather than staring at the same person all the time. The advantage of this is twofold: first, it holds the attention of everyone listening. And secondly, it decodes the messages they are sending back to you through their facial expressions, so you can adapt your speech accordingly. For those who are shy, it is a question of biting the bullet. Before the meeting, say to yourself: “Here are the three things I want to say, and I will not leave the room until I have said them.”

Choose your audience

Preparing for a meeting in advance is essential. The first rule is to have the right audience in the room. In my opinion, there should be no more than five or six people in a meeting. Everyone in attendance must be genuinely involved in the project and must be aware of a specific agenda. That way, everyone can properly prepare what they need to say. Because what you say during the meeting is by no means an exercise in improvisation! You must go into it with your message already defined, while still being able to adapt it according to the arguments put forward by others. You must also know where you will stick to your position and where you can change your mind. A constructive meeting is based on the “yes, but…” or the “yes, and…” response. Never on the outright “no”.

Structure your message

Prepare what you are going to say, lay out your arguments, and explain them. For example: “I have a financial argument, which is the following…”, then go on to develop it. Each time you take the floor, you must, in advance, have clearly structured what you are going to say. Indeed, you should not hesitate to plan out how you will introduce your idea and then explain the two or three reasons behind your conviction. You have to polish your arguments by preparing them. To sum up, my three tips would be the following: know who will be at the meeting; have your message prepared and organized in advance; and listen to the other participants so that, if need be, you can adapt your point of view.

Bertrand Périer Graduated from HEC in 1998. Now teaches public speaking — notably at HEC — in addition to his legal practice. In 2017, he published La parole est un sport de combat [Speaking is a combat sport] (published by Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès).


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