There were all the things you’d expect at this particular gathering: Darkened room. Master of ceremonies. Stage. A professional AV team.
The fact that I was presenting is not newsworthy. I’m regularly involved in events that, if you wouldn’t call them large, you’d at least describe them as ‘decently sized’.
I was the fifth speaker to take the stage on the day. Before I spoke, the audience had heard from three women and one man.
Now, unless you happened to be attending some sort of event specifically pitched at women, it’s not that often that the male to female speaker ratio happens to be that low in corporate environments. But that is not the most interesting fact about the speaker line-up that I want to highlight.
Years of observation has taken me to a point where I can identify quickly which speakers are nervous as they take the stage. And I can tell you that all the speakers before me was feeling some level of nervousness.
That said, each presenter pushed through the fear, anxiety, feelings of discomfort and delivered their messages anyway. As someone who has previously experienced a whole stack of nerves when speaking, I get how hard it is to speak in front of a crowd. But when you know the audience needs to hear your message, what choice do you have?
For anyone interested in how I felt before I took the stage…I’m happy to share that I too had butterflies. I ALWAYS do when I speak in public. And I’ve come to accept that it’s likely that I always will. But I’ve worked hard – and continue to do so to – to see my nerves as an asset. I now identify them as an element that allows me to bring a mix of energy and vulnerability to my presentations. Not as something that stops me from stepping up the microphone.
Here are some of the tips I’ve picked up from my own journey. Hopefully they will help you to speak in public so you can deliver your important messages.
12 tips to help you speak in public
Before the event
- Say yes. If there is one thing I’ve learned, public speaking is like any other skill. If you want to get better at it, you need to actually do it. When it comes to speaking in public, the default position for so many is ‘no’. Train yourself to say ‘yes’.
- Practice your presentation. I’ve met a few speakers who can take the stage and riff on any topic. And there are many of us who wish we could do the same. But the reality is, those sort of speakers are few and far between. The rest of us have to practice. And while practice doesn’t always make perfect, it generally makes for better performances. I like to record my presentations so I can listen back to them and understand where I can make improvements.
- Make sure you’re hydrated. Many of us wander through life dehydrated. This can lead to headaches and feelings of weakness or lightheadedness. None of these are things you want to encounter on days when you are speaking. Drink your water.
- Create speaking rituals and follow them. Most of us know what relaxes us. Whatever that happens to be for you – essential oils, meditation, listening to music, going for a walk – make sure you incorporate those things into life whenever you are asked to speak in public.
At the event
- Get comfortable in your environment. Arrive early enough to allow you to understand the room, where you will be entering the stage and how the technology works. Time spent in conference ‘green rooms’ has taught me that the best speakers always explore their speaking environment. Like them, you don’t want to waste any energy worrying about how you’ll advance your slide deck or switch on the microphone.
- Breathe. While you are waiting to go on stage and then while you are there, make sure you breathe, deeply and slowly. Breathe ‘deep into your guts’ as a colleague of mine recommends.
- Watch the stories you tell yourself. You won’t do your best work if you tell yourself you are going to trip up the stairs, forget your lines or that you hate speaking and will never do it again. Be kind to yourself.
During the event
- Keep going. If you get the shakes or your voice starts to quiver, simply keep speaking. If you forget where you were up to or make a mistake, pick up from where you left off as best you can. And if you can’t hear yourself speak because your pounding heart is drowning out your voice, fall back on the fact that you’ve practiced and you know what you want to say.
- Try to stay present and grounded. Sometimes it is easier said than done, but if you can stay present, you will be less likely to lose your place.
- Don’t give into the temptation to point out any anxiety you might be feeling. So many times, I’ve seen speakers bring attention to their nerves. Up until then, it was highly likely that the audience had not even noticed. Once they know you are feeling shaky, they’ll have no choice but to focus on it.
After the event
- Congratulate yourself. Even if your presentation wasn’t what you’d consider perfect, there’s sure to be something about it that went well. Focus on that.
- Be grateful for the opportunity. Any day that gives you a chance to learn to and grow is a fabulous one.
How do you feel when you are asked to speak in public? Do you avoid public speaking like the plague? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.