Don't beat yourself up if you don't love the attention of the lectern or stage the same way kids lick Fun Dip off the candy stick. That reaction is normal--psychologists think it freaks us out to get up in front of others because, on some evolutionary level, we're actually scared of the rejection and isolation that might come if we don't perform well. But if you're committed to getting through the public speaking event on your plate, here's how to up the odds you do fantastic.

1. Balance your focus between your topic and the audience.

You absolutely should strive to connect with your audience as you talk, as you want to come across as personable and trustworthy. But part of what makes people nervous as they give presentations is the spotlight effect, which refers to the tendency you have to think that others notice something about you more than they really do. You'll feel the spotlight effect far more harshly if you're 100 percent focused on the audience 100 percent of the time. So balance it. Give yourself permission to occasionally look away for a brief moment pretend the audience isn't there anymore, to just reconnect to the "why" behind doing the presentation. The passion you subsequently feel will be obvious to the listeners, so you won't be as disengaged from them as you might think.

2. Memorize the points, not the presentation.

Great public speakers don't try to memorize word for word or action for action because they understand it comes off as rehearsed and impersonal (big surprise). They memorize just their main concepts so that they can rephrase in different ways on the fly and not get stuck if they forget. Ideally, all your notes should fit on one page.

3. Prepare like it's an Oxford debate.

When most people give a presentation, they focus only on what they want to say, on one side of a topic. But in an Oxford debate, you're expected to prepare in advance so you can defend against potential counterarguments your opponent could bring up. You're also expected to let the audience ask some questions. By preparing for your presentation this way and thinking ahead to what an opponent or critic might say, you can include information that demonstrates you've truly thought through what you want to say and address concerns that otherwise might let audience members mentally discredit you. The more you try to go in as an expert, the less you'll be caught off guard and the better you can respond smoothly no matter what individuals might ask on your topic.

4. Put yourself down (a little).

Public speakers operate under a paradox. They need to come off as an expert, but if they do, they risk unintentionally making their audience feel inferior and, therefore, threatened. Poke a little fun at yourself at the beginning of the presentation. Connect your topic to the admission you're only human. Your listeners will find it disarming and pay more attention.

5. Get. Out. Of. PowerPoint. (Please.)

Here's why using PowerPoint for public speaking sucks, in a nutshell: If your audience is looking at the screen, they're not looking at you. And if they're not looking at you, they're missing tons of valuable information that comes from your body language and facial expressions. Not only that, but it's incredibly difficult for the brain to process two language elements at the same time--if your audience is reading, they're not really hearing you, and vice versa. If you absolutely must use a video clip or picture, do so only at a key point as emphasis, and don't try to talk and show the film/image at the same time.

Most of the anxiety that comes from public speaking happens because we're scared of being judged and left alone. But the more you use tips like these, the more successes you'll have that can put that fear to bed.

Published on: Feb 27, 2017
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