In Speaking In Public Is Not A Game, I shared a difficult public speaking experience and wrote about my feelings concerning the practice that some companies use of forcing their people to speak in public. While it’s true that personal growth can indeed come from facing our fears, I don’t think that forcing people to do so is such a great idea.
That said, at some point you may find yourself in a situation where you have to speak in public.
- Maybe, in a moment of braveness, you agreed to be the MC at your best friend’s wedding.
- Maybe you are a sales rep on the verge of closing a huge sale and your client has asked you to present your solution to the stakeholders who will be the end-users of your product or service.
- Or perhaps you are the president of a company and have been asked to make a presentation to a room full of people who are interested in what you do and why you do it.
If you have a fear of public speaking, you are not alone.
“As many as 75% of people have glossophobia.
Statistically, far more of us claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech; even comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that at a funeral, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” ~ glossophobia.com
So, what to do?
I have asked authors Dan L. Hays and Lorne Daniel to help me put together some public speaking tips that we hope will help. We encourage our other authors and readers to add their ideas as comments at the end of this post.
What follows presumes that you have some time to prepare for your presentation.
From Lorne Daniel
As a public speaker, I have enjoyed significant success and suffered through absolutely awful ‘I-want-to-die’ disasters. There are so many factors involved in successful public speaking that it can get very complex. However, a couple of key things have helped me.
1 – Focus on the content
Focus on the content and what the audience wants to know about the content, not yourself. The times I have really got in trouble as a speaker is when I did too much navel gazing and worried about my voice, or my clothes, or whether they would notice that my hand was trembling when I reached for that glass of water. The times when I aced it were when I knew my content inside-out and just focused on thinking “what would these good people out in the audience like to learn about this?”
2 – Make Eye Contact
Find a few friendly faces and build rapport. Before your talk even starts, look for the kind eyes and smiling faces out in the audience and use them as emotional starting points. Make eye contact with them, then broaden it to others in the audience. Keep in mind that, whatever technology you are working with, this is all about human communication. You and them. At a coffee shop, you don’t turn your back to your friends and talk to the wall. Don’t do that in a speech (as too many speakers do, while reading PowerPoint bullets from the screen).
From Dan L. Hays
There’s nothing more disconcerting than to get up to deliver a presentation, and because the crowd is larger than you thought, or for whatever reason, you forget where you are in your talk, or just can’t remember how you wanted to say things.
1 – Practice the talk
I usually practice a presentation in my mind numerous times, until I feel like I know how I want to say things, and how the subject matter evolves. Then if I get distracted for some reason, it’s much easier to get back on track. Plus, if I know my material really well, I can spend more emotional energy on the delivery and pace of the talk. That said, I don’t go so far as to memorize it, because I don’t want my delivery to sound wooden or rote. As long as I have the major points to work from, and any emphasis points in mind, I feel like I’m on solid ground.
2 – Visualize
Usually in the weeks before I deliver a talk, I will find myself visualizing being in front of that group, at that time, delivering that talk. Is it a handheld mike or a lapel mike that I’ll be using? I’ll visualize how I’ll use either one, and if I need to watch a mike cord, visualize making sure that I’m keeping it out of my way if I’m able to move around. Are there points that I want to emphasize? Are there pause points? Do I want to allow time for questions? I will visualize how all those experiences might go, and how I might respond to them. For instance, if I entertain questions, is the venue set up to have a mike for the audience? If so, their question will be broadcast so the entire audience can hear it. If not, I find it best to repeat the question so the audience knows what question I’m answering. I will even go to the venue and check out the layout, the podium, the mike arrangement if possible. Then I’m not walking into a strange room for the first time. If I have already seen the arrangement, and have been visualizing how I will work in that setting, I’m a lot more comfortable.
3 – Move around if possible
Sometimes you don’t have a choice. I spoke as part of a panel, and we were seated behind a table in front of the audience. That was not very comfortable for me, but I made it work. If I can, I prefer to walk around. I spoke to a large group, and while there was a podium at the front with a mike on a stand, the first thing I did was remove the mike from the stand (I had visited the site, so I knew this was possible) strung out the mike cord behind me (like every lounge singer since time began), and began to move around in front of the first row of participants. The movement helped me relax, and I could make eye contact with various audience members more easily.
4 – Practice being in front of people
I had an hour long presentation coming up, and knew the topic well. But I hadn’t been in front of people for a while. So I found an open mike event and attended a number of times. I read both prose and poetry that I had written, but was really there to strengthen my comfort with being in front of people. As I read, all eyes in the event were on me, and the first time I did it I was somewhat nervous. By the sixth time I performed, being in front of a group was much more comfortable, and I could much more easily concentrate on things like my delivery and connecting with the audience.
5 – Connect with the audience
If I feel like I’m delivering my talk to people in the audience, I’m connecting with them more solidly. So I try to establish eye contact, usually with a couple of people in different parts of the audience. This is helpful in letting me know how my content is connecting with the participants as I see their response to what I’m saying. I don’t try for lengthy eye contact, but just glances around the room. Doing that also helps me relax and not get locked in to a body position or looking in one direction.
Many of my public speaking experiences have been at the request of a friend, colleague or client. Often, I have not had much time to prepare. Fortunately, to date, all of them have involved speaking about something I know and feel passionate about.
1 – Know your subject matter & practice
The more comfortable and knowledgeable you are with what you will be speaking about, the more confident you will feel when the time comes to deliver it. What works for me is to prepare my presentation / talk and then break it down into small bullet points. I then print off these bullets and use them to practice with. Sometimes I fold it up and put it in my pocket in case I need to reference it when the day comes. Practice a lot and practice in different environments like on a walk, in your car or at the beach.
2 – Go for a walk beforehand
I find it very useful to go for a 10 – 15 minute walk just before I have to speak. It gets fresh air into your lungs which really helps. Look at the trees, the sky, the clouds and remind yourself that whatever happens, the sun will still rise tomorrow.
3 – Break the ice
If you have the option to show up a bit early and greet people as they come in, this can help a great deal. You’ll connect with a few of them and have someone you can make eye contact with when you start your presentation. If I have one, I love to start with a short relevant story, something I know really well and can speak about with passion and conviction. I find this gets me in the groove. If it’s a presentation where there will be some interaction, I sometimes pose a question to the audience right away. I find this helpful as it gets people involved and takes the spotlight off of me!
4 – Move, breathe and control your tempo
Personally, I have a really hard time standing behind a podium, especially to start. Once I am in gear, the podium is just fine. I find it easier to have a wireless microphone (or take the wired mic off the stand) and move about. Keeping my legs moving helps me to breathe easier which ultimately pumps blood and oxygen into my brain. As for tempo, don’t rush your talk. Let it flow at an even tempo. It will help if when you practice, you recite the first few paragraphs with tempo in mind. Be sure there are slight pauses after each sentence and slightly longer ones after each salient point that you want to make.
Dan, Lorne and I all hope that these public speaking tips will help you if you find yourself in a situation where you must face an audience, and possibly your fears. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. The three of us will be notified of comments and reply as soon as possible. Again, if any of our authors or readers have helpful ideas, please leave those below as well.