How can people become more comfortable with public speaking? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Don't be yourself.
That's obviously wrong, but so, I think, is the usual "be yourself" advice when it comes to public speaking. Maybe it'd be better to say: you don't have to be all of yourself. As a (presumably) decent human being, you're probably a complicated person, at times a vulnerable person. You want to be liked! You're afraid people won't like you. You hopefully have a decent fund of self-deprecation that you use to get through everyday life, because, as someone who's not a jerk, you think that you're probably wrong about stuff sometimes, or that your perspective may not be the right one, and you draw upon that to remind yourself to look at things from someone else's point of view. You care what people think of you.
Much of this can get in your way in front of an audience. If you, the real, squishy you, are on stage in front of all those people, then horrible things might happen. You can crash and burn. Someone out there in the dark will hate you. Fortunately, unless you're doing a very specific kind of performance art, most audiences don't really want to see that fullness of vulnerability. They expect to see something polished but not too polished, something similar to real life, but heightened, smoothed, and secure.
In short, you're trying not to be yourself, but to be a specific aspect of yourself--a public mask. That mask doesn't have to be all that different from you, in fact it's probably best if it's not, but it can be less vulnerable--and because it's less vulnerable, because performance is a paradoxical business, the mask of you doesn't need to be as defensive as the real you. The mask can present its material and engage with the audience without fear--with the kind of compassion strength allows.
You can develop the mask by practicing your material. Before a solo presentation, I'll go through my notes exhaustively--often, even if I'm just presenting a powerpoint, I'll have something like a complete script, written down or in my head. That gives me a strong foundation. You learn your lines just like an actor--and, like an actor, you learn the character who says them. Who isn't necessarily all that different from you, but is a version of you that's a little more authoritative, a little more secure, than the one who loses at Smash Brothers or once spilled an entire beer on himself while trying to slide into a movie theater seat.
So you get on stage. You become the person who delivers that speech without a hitch--who connects with the audience--who doesn't fear when she stumbles. You become the person you need to be.
And then you take the mask off, because who wants to be that person all the time?
This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: