A few days ago I received the following questions from a reader:
1. Were you afraid of public speaking ever?
2. Do you experience any feelings of performance anxiety?
3. What tips do you have for giving great presentations?
The short answer to the first two questions, is YES.
I never thought that public speaking would be a part of my career. While I love being around people, I am more of an introvert. At a party, you can find me in deep conversation with one person, or the quiet one in a big group, laughing at everyone's jokes and stories. I love being the audience for outgoing people, and don't like to talk about myself.
However, the best public speakers are experts at storytelling, humor, and, talking about themselves.
But when the president of my community college alma mater asked me to speak at a scholarship fundraiser, I couldn't say no.
It was the first time I shared my community college story in front of an audience. The reaction afterwards blew me away, and I realized my story impacted people. It seemed talking about myself could make a difference.
And that is when the anxiety began to fade.
While you may not be looking to make public speaking a career, it is an important skill to have in your toolbox to help you advance in whatever your field.
Below are the processes I use to help me overcome my fears. I hope they can help you relieve anxiety and speak with confidence:
1. Use your anxiety
I still feel the butterflies right before I speak. I once heard someone say that the feeling of nervousness means you're about to do something important. Run that saying in your head to remind yourself that it's okay to feel nervous, and instead of clamming up, let the adrenaline energize you to add value to your audience.
2. Prepare against "bad" anxiety
Okay, so not all anxiety means you're about to do something important. Sometimes it means you're unprepared. So to ward off this brand of anxiousness, practice your speech days before, and know your audience.
3. Know your audience
The best way to lessen your anxiety is to do everything you can to get to know the people you'll be speaking to. There is nothing more nerve-wracking then not knowing how your speech is going to be received. If you get to know your audience and keep their needs in mind as you prepare your speech, you will be able to craft it into something they'll love, appreciate, and gain value from.
I recommend seeking out and writing down the answers to the following questions about your audience: Who are they? What do they want? How can you add value to them by what you say? How can you make them feel good?
4. Write out your speech first
Once you know your audience, open a word document and free-write your speech. Don't judge yourself, just write.
Then, go back and edit for clarity and flow. Also check it to make sure it's mostly anecdotes and stories (relevant, of course). People pay attention to stories, but drift off when you recite too much information. Think edutainment.
Ensure your speech is personal and relevant to the lives of your audience. If you do this, no one will be checking their smart phones while you're speaking.
The next day, read through your written ideas for the speech and transfer key words to notecards.
5. Be conversational
The best speeches are conversational. Have you ever had to listen to someone read a speech? Unless they are very talented, it is a guaranteed snoozer.
So take your notecards, set the timer, and just talk out your speech as if you were talking to a friend. Use facial expressions and hand motions, and really try to re-live the stories you are telling.
During this process, feel free to edit the notecards as you go, based on things you keep forgetting or transitions you need to add.
(Quick note about PowerPoint: use words sparingly, if at all. Use one or two relevant pictures per slide (personal pictures are great; they'll endear the audience to you and make you seem more relatable), and don't switch slides too often. Have no more than one slide for every 10 minutes. If you do PowerPoint right, it can be a great way to keep you on track and give your audience a visual element to enjoy. But when in doubt, leave it out).
On the day of the speech, have your notecards in your pocket. Though if you do this right, you'll find you won't even need them.
Anytime you're asked to speak publicly, go for it, and watch how others are touched by your honest talk. When you speak about what you know and are confident of the value you can share with others, the anxiety will melt away.