Totally Terrified of Public Speaking? 4 Tips to Cope
Flashback to third grade and you have to get up and give your first book report in front of the entire class (even that cute guy or gal in the front row). Your heart is beating so hard you can hear it in your ears. Your palms are sweaty and your knees are knocking.
If giving a presentation or public speaking makes you feel like this, join the club, you're not alone. In fact, I think Jerry Seinfeld has one of the best quotes out there about this, "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
Dr. Michael Telch of the Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin says that for most Americans, "The biggest fear is public speaking, with 15 percent of Americans experiencing a dramatic fear of it." Humor and statistics aside, how can you face your fear head on and speak like a pro in public? I'll share a few of my favorite tips:
Know Your Audience
If you're asked to give a presentation, the most important information you should get ahead of time is about your audience. What's their background, how technical are they, what industries or companies do they come from? By knowing who your audience is (or isn't), you can tailor your content to them. By doing this, your presentation, regardless of any nerves you may be feeling has a better chance of resonating and adding value for your audience and they will appreciate you for it. As an attendee, there's nothing worse than paying a lot of coin to attend a conference and have presenters that don't know who they are speaking for, or to. One great trick? Get there early and talk to a few folks to get to know them a tiny bit then you'll have someone to connect to in the audience.
You're the Expert
Remember, people are attending your presentation to learn something. And, you know your stuff or you wouldn't be up there. Avoid the rabbit-hole thinking that the audience is out to get you and make you look stupid. They are there to gain knowledge so give 'em what they came for. By knowing your audience, and your stuff, you're halfway there.
Be Properly Prepared
Remember the saying, "Being properly prepared prevents poor performance"? I'm a firm believer in this one and definitely advise investing the time to put together a solid presentation.
- Create your own slides: It helps if you're the one creating the slides and notes so you can use examples that you and your audience can relate to. When you have a connection to the examples you use, it makes telling the story (or the presentation) so much more natural and easy.
- Use lots of visuals: Spend quality time creating an engaging deck (remember to include lots of great visual examples because no one likes to look at an all text preso these days.)
- Rehearse! Spend an equal, if not greater amount of time practicing and rehearsing your presentation. Find a quiet place and do as many dry runs as you need to. Then find someone willing to listen and provide you constructive criticism and do your presentation for them.
By feeling prepared you can lessen the factors that will make your nerves feel frazzled come show time. You can also get coaching through a group like Toastmasters International which can really help you gain a sense of confidence and ease.
No matter how nervous you feel, you will get through it so it's important to remember to let yourself have some fun and allow your personality to shine through. You don't want to be some stiff suit up on a podium that alienates your audience.
You can come up with your own ways of coping, from the old school imagining the audience in their underwear, to a cool trick I saw Tyler Willis from Unified do at one of our VerticalResponse user conferences a few years ago; Tyler brings his smartphone up to the podium with him and before he begins speaking, he tells the audience he's going to take a picture of them. He then explains that if, at the end of his speech, he gets three questions, he'll reveal why he took the picture (Willis explains at the end it's because his parents don't quite get "social media" and that people pay to hear him speak so he sends them the pictures). He not only gives himself a few seconds to get comfortable and have a little fun, he also breaks the ice and draws his listeners in from the get-go.
What are some of your favorite techniques to add to my list?