Public speaking is a bit like jumping into a pool. There is no half-way point; you either jump or you don’t. Sadly many people let the fear of public speaking put them off sharing great stories. Nobody is born as a great public speaker, it is a skill that everyone develops with practice.
Start small. Practice giving presentations to your colleagues or friends (if you have the sort of hobby that suits presentations..). Learn how to tell a story with visual aids rather than being tempted to read each slide line by line. Watching presentations from others is a great way to develop. Take note of how the speaker engages with the audience, uses slides, and the many different presentation styles that people use. Experiment with these ideas as you find your personal presentation style.
The only way to develop your public speaking is to practice. Write your talk in advance and then practice it until you know it inside out. The audience have turned out because they’re interested in your topic. Make sure that you do the preparation required to deliver them a great story.
I find the very beginning of a presentation to be the hardest. You’re likely to still be processing the whole being on stage looking at the audience thing. You might be blinded by the lights or freaked out by the foreignness of the microphone. All these things will work to try to make you lose your way. Have a scripted introduction and beginning to your talk that you can use if you do find yourself overwhelmed. I promise that once you get started you’ll forget your nerves.
What’s the worst that could happen? Huib Schoots passed on a piece of wisdom (that in turn came from Michael Bolton; if you’re feeling nervous before a presentation think about ‘Why’? Are you worried about getting facts or figures wrong? If so, practice. Are you worried about mis-pronouncing a word or losing your place? If so, does it really matter? Have you actually ever seen an audience attack someone for making a mistake like this?
Are you worried that you’ll be hit by stage-fright? Learning to manage your nerves is an important part of succeeding as a public speaker. It’s probably safe to assume that all public speakers are nervous to an extent. After all you’re about to stand up and share an idea, and opinion or a story. You want the audience to enjoy it, agree with it, remember you fondly but you also know that there will always be doubters ready to question what you think. Controlling nerves comes in part from rationalising them, and in part from learning to accept that they are part and parcel of public speaking. Use the adrenaline to bring energy to your talk and don’t be surprised if you feel a little wiped out by the end of it all.
There are a couple of mistakes that new public speakers make. As with everything else you are more likely to avoid these as you become more accustomed to public speaking but I thought they were worth mentioning. 1) The number 1 rule of a good presentation is don’t read the slides. Your audience can read too, and they can read a whole lot faster than you can speak so it’s likely they’ll have read the whole slide before you’ve even begun. 2) Don’t go too fast. Nerves can have the horrible habit of making you rush through your carefully rehearsed talk at a hundred miles an hour. Don’t be afraid of silences, the pauses can be a really great way to emphasise a point. They also give you some time to actually breathe. I find it helpful to write ‘Pause’ in my speaker notes to remind myself. Take a few moments to be silent and then continue. Taking a drink is also an easy way to build pauses into your talk.
Dive in, have a go and then make sure you do it again. Like any skill you need to practice so no matter what happens go away and find some positives and some areas for improvements then come back and do it again. After a couple of outings you’ll find the whole getting on a staging and speaking thing a lot less scary and your talk will improve no end.
Any other tips? How do you manage your nerves?