As someone who travels around the world for a number of conferences, I've both seen and delivered my fair share of lectures and presentations. Of course, for an important conference, most companies will send their very best presenters; someone who's confident, personable and knows what they're talking about. But other times, people might not be as prepared--and it shows.
This isn't anyone's fault; public speaking can be nerve-wracking, especially if you're not used to it or are absolutely terrified of it. But as entrepreneurs and leaders, it's virtually unavoidable. Knowing that, there are two ways to approach it: you can dread it and just barely get through it every time, or you can work to build up the skills needed to successfully execute a great presentation or lecture. Here are five tips for preparing for a public speaking gig.
1. Keep the pressure in check.
In other words, humble yourself. Sure, your presentation is likely important, and you want to make a good impression on your audience, but if you mess up, it's most likely not going to be the end of the world. If the stakes were that high, you'd know.
When I'm speaking at a conference, I try to remind myself that this is one of many presentations that my audience is going to hear that day. It doesn't mean what I have to say doesn't matter, but it does mean that applying an excess amount of pressure is pointless, and could even hurt me as a presenter. Instead of thinking "if I mess up, the audience will hate me," I try to think, "how can I make this enjoyable for the audience?" De-centering yourself is key.
2. Do things your way.
There are a million suggestions out there for how to speak confidently and win over an audience: Tell jokes! Share a personal story! Use visuals! While these are all great suggestions worth exploring, they're not all going to work for everyone, and that's okay. It sounds cliché, but it's more important that you be yourself when presenting than try some technique you're not comfortable with. Plus, audiences are smart--they know when you're not being genuine.
I like to sprinkle in a little humor when I present, but I don't like to overdo it. Other CEOs I know like to keep the audience cracking up throughout a presentation. Neither one of these methods is "right" or "wrong"; what matters it what's right for you.
3. Know your material.
Shout out to all public speaking teachers for this age-old tip; Know. Your. Stuff. It's a simple hack for speaking confidently and communicating effectively; if you know what you're talking about, that's half the battle. You're the expert; what's there to be afraid of?
Rehearsing can get old after a while, though, so if you can, do your best to switch things up as you practice. Try changing locations, practicing with and without notes, alone and in front of others and recording yourself to see how you sound. If you can conquer your material in a variety of environments and methods, you'll feel much more comfortable when presentation time comes.
4. Keep up appearances.
You know yourself and what you will feel confident in; whatever that is, wear it. Make sure it's appropriate for the event, of course, but your own comfort should be a priority.
I'm not really a suit guy; I'll wear one if I have to, but they're not my preference. I try to keep my wardrobe choices for a presentation similar to what I'd wear in my everyday life. Again, audiences are smart; they can tell if you're not really being you, and that applies to your clothes, too.
5. Know when to let go.
This applies to rehearsing and the presentation itself. Eventually you will reach a point where practicing becomes detrimental to what you're trying to accomplish; don't let yourself reach a point of burnout, otherwise the actual presentation will lack enthusiasm. When you reach a point where you feel genuinely confident and comfortable, stop. Even if your last rehearsal had a slip-up or two, let it go.
Same goes for the actual presentation; don't get caught up in a missed word or a presentation malfunction. Things happen; what's important is how you handle them. Dwelling on an error won't make the error go away, but powering through and finishing strong could make your audience forget about the error. Again, let it go.