One of the most common fears in the world is public speaking. According to most research, public speaking is scarier than bugs, snakes, flying, and death.
Death?! Yes, it's true. People are more afraid of public speaking than of dying.
And yet public speaking is essential for many professionals. If you are going to grow at your organization or in your career, it behooves you to improve as a public speaker. Whether you're speaking in front of 2,000 people, 20 people, or 2 people, the rules of the game still apply.
I've spent countless hours practicing and delivering speeches around the world. But I still wouldn't call myself an expert. So I turned to my friend Michael Port for help. Michael is the New York Times best-selling author of Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life. This is what he shared:
1) You DON'T have to tell them what you're going to tell them. I imagine you've heard the old adage, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." It makes perfect sense and is perfectly appropriate in some situations and can even be helpful. However, not all speeches need to open with a "here's what we're going to do today." In fact, sometimes taking the audience on a journey that they don't expect can be exciting. If the speech is good, you don't need to tell them what you're going to do. When you go to see a movie, it rarely starts with the cast telling you what's going to happen for the next 90 minutes, along with the fact that everyone dies in the end. And I am sure you've seen a movie trailer that has ruined the movie for you.
2) Establish right away that you know what the world looks like for them--and what it could look like. Vividly paint the picture. All world-saving performances are transformational experiences for your audience. Start out by showing "here's what you've got today, and here's how it could be." This builds immediate rapport and hooks the audience's interest. You know them. You understand them. You've got their back ... and you've got a better way.
3) Reward your audience for participating or contributing in some way. Now, you don't need to throw treats into the mouths of audience members to get their attention. But they are sentient and intelligent living beings who need simple acknowledgement if you want them to interact and contribute. Imagine being asked to participate in something--whether it's holding a door open for a friend or running a major project--and not even getting a nod of thanks in return.
4) Use open hands with your palms up instead of your finger for pointing. Sometimes the finger looks like a gun. It's also rude in some cultures. Instead, extend your hand with your palm up as if offering up alms. It's more gracious, more inclusive, and more giving.
5) Use contrast and extremes to create excitement and keep attention. Contrast can be emotional, physical, and structural. This basic story-arc technique is integral to every great play, every great film, and every great piece of music. Consider your performance as like a roller-coaster ride. Can you take me to the edge of a cliff before artfully lowering me, with love and care, to a safe place? Can you make the highs higher and the lows lower?
6) Keep moving forward. Never let your energy drop. You're onstage to take your audience to their final destination. Keep your foot on the gas pedal. You'll have uphill moments when your speed slows, but the power and intensity increase. You can be both calm and energetic.
7) Stand and land. Let your punch lines, point lines, and purpose lines land. That means you don't move while you're delivering them. You remain physically rooted to the spot so that your body reinforces the gravity of your words.
8) You can move and talk at the same time. People do it all the time in real life. The idea that you can't walk and talk at the same time is ridiculous. But don't sway, and don't move when you're landing on your most important points (see No. 7, "Stand and land").
9) Don't say, "I'm glad to be here." Show them that you're glad to be there instead. Your audience should see it in your actions and hear it in your words. Besides, what's the alternative? That you're not glad to be there?
10) Don't tell them you're going to tell a story. Just tell the story.
11) Be conscientious about connecting the dots or you'll lose your audience. If you're presenting a series of interconnected concepts or stories or characters, make it as simple as possible to understand. Remember: even though you know your story inside out, your audience is hearing it for the first time.
12) Never apologize for the amount of time you don't have. The minute you apologize for what they're not getting, your audience will start to feel that they're missing out on something. They should feel that the amount of time you have is the perfect amount of time. You can blow their minds in just a few minutes. Look at all these great TED talks for inspiration.
13) Let them go early. Audiences always like to be let out a few minutes early--even if they LOVE your performance. There are no prizes for endurance in performance. Let them leave a few minutes ahead of schedule. They'll thank you for it.
14) Remember, they don't know what you know. It's the first time they've heard your info. Don't assume prior knowledge. It can only help your message if you're comprehensive and to the point.
15) Don't make jokes about difficult topics. Stay away from jokes that are awkward, sensitive, or otherwise confronting. If you want to make yourself the butt of your jokes, that kind of self-deprecating humor can work very well. That doesn't mean you can't lighten up the mood when talking about difficult subjects, but that's different than poking fun or making jokes at other people's expense.
16) If you tell them you care about something, you also need to tell them why. It's not good enough to say, "I'm a strong proponent of women's rights." You've got to hook them in with your reasons. Your why is what makes your beliefs more powerful and your cause stronger.
17) Boom, boom, BANG. The rule of three is one of the most important performance techniques you can use to grab attention and make people laugh. It's powerful, it's potent, and it packs a punch (see what I did there?).
18) Get right to it! Most speakers waste time on too much exposition and preparation, and the audience starts thinking, "Let's go already!" Instead, hit the accelerator hard and launch straight on. Let them know what they're in for by what they experience from you in the first 30 seconds.
19) You don't have to slow down. Most public speaking teachers tell you to slow down. Sometimes that makes sense. But if you're worried about speaking too quickly, you're focused on the wrong thing. Instead of slowing down, focus on pausing. Speakers who speak too slowly have a soporific effect. You can speak quickly--it creates rhythm--if you pause at the right places to land your points and give the audience time to think. And if you encourage note-taking during your performance, make sure you give people enough time to write down what you want them to write down. Spell things out if necessary. You'll lose your audience very quickly if they've got their heads stuck in their notebooks or laptops.
If you think you're going to rise to the occasion, don't bet on it. Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion; you fall back on your training. If you think you're going to somehow be inspired to come up with the right material during the speech without preparation and skill, think again.
You must be prepared if you want to make life-saving, world-changing speeches. Whether you're speaking around the globe, making a sales presentation, or going to a job interview, you can become a much, much better public speaker and performer in all aspects of life.