You know the feeling – palms drenched, knees shaking, mouth so dry your lips stick to your teeth. Public speaking is the one thing that a large majority of us fear more than death. Actual DEATH!
In 2007 I journeyed from life as an ICU nurse to a job requiring weekly presentations. The night before my first “performance” literally left me tossing, turning and imagining every worst case scenario known to womankind. Amazingly, I survived, and I now speak to crowds of several hundred on a regular basis.
Did a few things get learned along the way? You betcha, and because I frequently get asked for tips after people watch my TEDx Talk, I’m going to bullet point some them for you here.
To get us started, however, let’s revisit the age-old expression, “Practice makes perfect.” It’s true, yes, but I’m not talking about the practice of getting up in front of people. I’m talking about practicing before you get up in front of people. That is my single most important piece of advice, although I’ll give you a lot more than just that.
- Practice over and over and over again, especially with new material. Practice always, and until your speech looks unrehearsed. Present to your dog, cat, canary or family member, but especially to your mirror. Practice makes your speech appear seamless and prepares you for possible slip-ups. It will also let you know what areas you need to work on and where to anticipate questions or comments. This one act is invaluable to success.
- Take a deep breath before you begin. Did you know that people tend to take only shallow, ineffective breaths when they’re nervous? Oxygenate and rejuvenate!
- When organizing content, follow this rule: tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), tell them (body of the speech) and tell them what you’ve told them (summarize).
- Address “housekeeping” items before you start to keep yourself from getting distracted – cell phones on vibrate, no laptops, etc.
- DO NOT read PowerPoint slides to your audience. You’ll lose them at the “Objectives” screen. Instead, list bullet points and talk around them. They can read.
- Watch out for filler words such as “um,” “ah,” “so,” and “like.” If you, like, use a word habitually in, like, conversation, it’s, like, going to, like, show up in your, like, presentation. This will guarantee to distract your audience to the point where they could care less about your intended message. You want your presentation to be conversational, but . . .
- Have someone tape you. Trust me, this is the best way to see all potential distractions, from filler words to annoying movements that distract.
- Accept feedback! Don’t allow yourself to get defensive when someone suggests ways to improve. In my early speaking career, someone told me to stop playing with my hair, and I had no idea I even did that! Although secretly perturbed, I ditched the habit.
- Water! If it’s a long presentation, keep some nearby, and don’t feel self-conscious about stopping to drink. It beats having that dry, hacking cough come out of nowhere.
- Make eye contact with as many members of your audience as you can. Concentrating on just a few can make them feel uncomfortable.
- If you’re asked a question, and you don’t know the answer, admit it and promise to get back to them. You’ll gain respect and a reputation for being genuine.
- Use humor to lighten the mood, but resist using scripted jokes. Let your humor flow naturally, like it would in conversation.
- Remember – they don’t know what they don’t know, so your audience won’t notice if it’s not a perfect presentation. And it’s okay to slip up. Just acknowledge it and move on.
- If your neck turns red when you speak, don’t wear a scooped or V-neck.
- This one might sound crazy, but if you’re super new at speaking, petroleum jelly on your teeth can keep those dreaded dry lips from sticking to your teeth.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be lighthearted and willing to let go of perfection.
- Expose yourself to opportunities. Joining a community club, such as Toastmasters, can really accelerate your skill level.
In summary, public speaking can be the ultimate outside-of-the-box experience, which can only lead to strides in personal and professional growth. And make no mistake, those who do it well were once where you are now. By implementing the above tips, you can minimize anxiety and actually even have some fun with it. Yes, fun! When you truly connect with an audience, you gain just as much, if not more, than they do.
Practice + Practice – Perfectionism = Positively Entertaining