Public speaking is an acquired taste.
And way back when? Like most, I hated it.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- I’d get so nervous in the days before, I’d try to bail.
- The pit in my stomach in the hours leading up was more like an elephant than a butterfly.
- I’d take one look at the audience, and I couldn’t relax. I’d fidget…think about my hands and what to do with them…and eventually have to rely on my printed notes to string together a coherent sentence!
Today though? I love it!
- The challenge of keeping all eyes up front…
- Everyone engaged…
- Everyone remembering…
It gets me excited!
Key to a successful presentation? Own your audience.
Grab them up front…
Keep their attention…
Make them feel your message…
Do these things, and, you can be remembered forever.
And, isn’t that the point?
You’re speaking to teach…to inspire…to motivate…to share value!
Whatever your reason, there’s always one thing every talk has in common. To be good…to be remembered, it has to be valuable in some way for your audience.
I know…I know…
“No kidding, dude!”
So then why are so many presentations utter crap?
You already know the reasons…and many have nothing to do with the content itself!
- The speaker is not prepared.
- The speaker is too nervous.
- The speaker is sweating so much, you notice the beads of forehead perspiration.
- The speaker stands in one place and reads their notes.
- The speaker has not made the effort to understand the audience.
- The speaker does not (or cannot) read the audience.
- The speaker does not respect the audience’s time.
- The speaker depends on slides.
- And truly more bullet points than you would be happy reading… 😛
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Public speaking is, indeed, an acquired taste…
The good news?
No matter how large your audience, there are tricks that can put you in the best position to overcome the fears associated with public speaking.
Here are some things I do to make sure every presentation I deliver is kick-ass.
DO THE PREP
Quite frankly, this is probably the easiest way to overcome nerves and stand out. NEVER wing it. Know who your audience will be and play to their needs. Understand their mindset.
- Script what you have to say, and practice it until you don’t need your notes.
This takes time. Be patient.
For example, if I have a 30-45 minute talk, I’ll spend a couple days creating slides, video, and audio.
Then I script it.
Then it’s another seven to ten days practicing until I know it cold. Now when I say “know it cold,” that doesn’t always mean I say exactly what’s in the script…It DOES always mean I know the subject matter and the flow.
All in all, I usually devote a solid 50 hours or so to a single 45-minute talk delivered to a large audience.
Think about that. More than an hour of time for every minute I will be speaking.
And, while a shorter talk to fewer people takes far less time, I still prep and practice so I can riff as needed.
This helps…considerably. It allows me to riff and branch off naturally without speaking aimlessly. With prep, I can always come back to the core presentation.
A couple years ago I had prepared a talk for about 200 sales people. It was to be the opening presentation for day three of an annual Sales Kickoff event.
COOL! I got a bunch of Starbucks cards, and I was ready to wake everyone up!
That is, until I got to the hotel.
“Zach, we had to move you.”
- Instead of kicking it off? I was moved to dead last.
- Last presentation before the bar.
- Last presentation before the bar and after three straight deaths-by-Powerpoint.
And the worst part? I had to participate in the day’s other presentations. I couldn’t close myself in a room and prepare a new introduction. I had to do it across sporadic minutes during breaks.
So I’m up.
My audience is spent.
The vibe in the room? Dead.
But me? Prepared. Excited. READY.
The changed intro got the previously comatose crowd up on their feet!
(It even got a(n admittedly manufactured) standing ovation! — Hit me in the comments if you want to hear exactly how.)
I was able to get creative relatively on the fly because I knew my material cold. I understood my audience, recognized their needs, and shifted my intro to call-out their perceived mindset. The result? It killed.
TAKEAWAY: Never underestimate the power of prep time.
RELAX…No really. RELAX.
Before I go on, I always do deep breathing exercises.
It sounds new-age and weird. And, it may very well be.
All I know? It frickin’ works.
My favorite one? This…
It probably has some funny yoga name.
- Close your eyes
- Take deep breaths through your nose
- Put your arms over your head
- Bend over as far as you can and let your arms hang
- Continue to breathe deeply
- Slightly sway your arms from side to side
- Focus on your breathing
- After a few minutes, start to stand again, unfolding purposefully, vertebrae by vertebrae
- Put your arms over your head and stretch
- Take one last deep breath and open your eyes
I do this exercise off stage…in another room…anywhere really. Location does not matter as long as it’s out of the sight of the audience. The timing though? Critical.
If you practice this, make sure to start the exercise no more than ten or so minutes before you are to begin. Your brain will chillax, and you won’t have time to get nervous again.
TAKEAWAY: To chill out a bit…meditate and stretch just before you go on.
ONCE YOU BEGIN, SPEAK TO INDIVIDUALS
I split a room—no matter how big—into six sections:
This creates nine core blocks of people. Like this:
- Create those blocks and then find individuals in the audience.
- Look into their eyes if you can.
- Speak to these individuals.
DO this, and EVERYONE will feel you are speaking directly to them.
NOTE: Sometimes the room is too large and the lights too bright to see everyone past just before middle (if not only the first few rows). This doesn’t matter. If you occasionally look to those blocks you’ve created in your head, you’ll get the same effect.
And BONUS! If you can focus on the eyes of individual people, you can control your nerves. Speaking to one person is infinitely easier than speaking to 50…100…1000. Don’tcha think?
TAKEAWAY: To engage your audience AND calm your nerves, focus in on individuals.
Public Speaking can be scary.
It’s difficult for a whole ton of people.
I used to be one of them. Then, I started accepting any chance to speak in front of an audience.
Once I combined that with all of the things recommended above?
- It became easier.
- It became fun.
- It became virtually fear-free.
If you want to improve as a speaker, try these things out.
I hope they help you as they have helped me.