Which is more frightening to you: death or public speaking? Many people have difficulty choosing between the two. Perhaps because they fear that public speaking could possibly lead to their death while death only very rarely ever leads to public speaking.
But public speaking isn’t something to be afraid of, in fact, it is an amazing opportunity. You get the chance to impress whole groups of people that you rarely work with all at once. Being an effective public speaker is one of the best ways to show your coworkers and bosses that you know what you are doing and can get it done. Still, this is little comfort to some in getting over their stage fright. If you count yourself among these terrified souls, relax, take a deep breath, and keep reading. You will find that public speaking is a far more manageable thing than you have feared all these years.
Allow me to let you in on a dirty little secret, everyone gets stage fright. Even the most talented and incredible performers on the planet get nervous. To get over it they follow many of the rules that I’ll list below and most importantly they realize one very important truth: the audience wants to listen to them.
In social settings the audience is looking to be entertained, in professional settings they want to learn. The premise is the same in both and while one is usually more formal than the other the mental approach is also very much the same. When you get up there in front of a boardroom or classroom or any room full of people try think of it as though they are all your “fans.” It’s easier to talk to people when you know that they like you. Once you realize that those people you are terrified to talk in front of want you to succeed it takes a lot of the pressure off.
Another important point that many people overlook is to make sure that you remember that nerves go both ways when you are speaking. Often when you look people directly in the eyes you can make them uncomfortable (and if you are already nervous you may forget what you’re talking about). A good trick if the setting is not too intimate is to look at everyone’s forehead, this creates the illusion of eye contact without the discomfort.
Make sure not to over-analyze whatever you are going to be presenting. People have a terrible habit of psyching themselves out when it comes to public speaking because they build it up to be so much more difficult in their minds than it actually is. A sure fire way to forget your lines on stage is to concentrate too hard on what you are saying. Try to follow what you say as naturally as possible and always try to be thinking about what your next point is going to be.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!
Those three words are the true and only way to give a good presentation of any kind. Make sure you know your material as thoroughly as possible; you never know when your boss is going to challenge you with a tough question. There are many good ways to rehearse speeches and presentations. Cue cards are a very common choice, but people often get caught using them as a crutch. If you decide to use cue cards try to practice with them enough that you don’t actually need them when it comes for the real thing and if you absolutely must have them only write brief notes on them to remind you of your main topics and points.
DO NOT write down your speech word for word on anything that you will be using in your presentation, it can make things very boring for the audience and, worst of all, makes it seem like you didn’t rehearse. Another method of rehearsing (and my personal favorite) is using a voice recorder. Digital recorders are great for this; they are cheap and can be found at any electronics store. It can make the process a little more time consuming because you need to listen to your playback but I find it helps memorize your points faster and there is the enormous advantage of being able to hear yourself; letting you know what sounds good and what doesn’t. As you begin to get your points down you will find the recorder will help you make your delivery more creative and interesting, something that will bring your presentation to the next level.
Speak to Your Audience
You can break down public speaking into three different levels: poor, direct, and engaging. The first, poor, is when you stutter a lot, forget what you are going to say, all the things you generally should be able to be avoid if you rehearse enough. Direct speaking is better but it is just the facts and even if you deliver it with energy it can often bore or even worse make your audience uncomfortable.
Your ultimate goal is to be able to cross over into the realm of an engaging public speaker and the first step to making that move is relating to the audience you are speaking to. When a stand up comic performs in front of a bunch of college kids his material is going to be different than when he does Late Night at the Apollo. The same principle applies for you. If you are presenting to your peers whom you work with frequently, feel free to be a little more casual. That doesn’t mean you should tighten up when you are in a board room full of your superiors, in fact, try to learn a little bit about them. If they are big sports fans or family oriented try and work it in some how. If you can find any little bit of something they can personally relate to in your presentation it will go a long way not only for those listening but being impressing them as well.
Once you start to engage your audience they will begin to loosen up and become as comfortable with you as you are with them. Another nice trick is to try and put a well placed joke near the beginning of your presentation somewhere. Regardless of the setting a little humor does a few very good things: it lightens the mood and the pressure, shows that people are listening, gets them to listen closer, and further demonstrates your impeccable people skills to the big wigs in the room.
Now, you might really have to work at this one. It isn’t always easy to find what is exciting about sales figures and term profits but if you can master this step, the realm of public speaking will be yours for the taking. Ever notice how much you have to say about something when you are really angry, or when someone starts talking about your favorite band? Well, that is how you want to be able to talk when you are giving a speech: freely. Try to find something unique about at least one or two of your topics that you can pause and give special attention to during your presentation. You can’t fake true passion and everyone in the room will notice when they see it.
Try not to get so excited you forget your talking points or lose your composure but you will find that your passion is contagious and if people believe your attitude they will start to get excited about what you are sharing with them. That is how you get from “Hey, that presentation yesterday wasn’t bad” to “Hey, that presentation Mark gave on Voodoo Economics was totally incredible!”
Once you are able to find something in your presentation to be passionate about the whole of your subject gains new life. Everything is easier to remember because you are building around something, you worry less, and you might even start to enjoy the whole process.