Few things are more likely to induce butterflies in the stomach than the thought of public speaking.
If you have an impending presentation to make and are wondering how you will get through it, here are seven tips a seasoned workshop trainer shared with me.
Get enough rest the night before the presentation.
Pick out your outfit in advance, so that you won’t be stressing at the last minute over how you look or what to wear.
Rehearse your presentation several times – practise speaking to the walls at home or to friends – so you get used to hearing yourself speak. Notice how you articulate, work out how long your presentation takes and make adjustments until you can speak confidently without looking at your notes.
Before you go on stage, take a few deep breaths and think calming, positive thoughts.
See yourself as the confident, empowered and effective speaker that you aspire to be, and act as if you are already that person.
Speak slowly and clearly.
If your venue is a place that is unfamiliar, make sure you have an up-to-date copy of the street directory or a GPS in your car.
Give yourself plenty of time to get there, in case of emergencies or a change in the traffic situation.
Find out the layout of the room, the number of attendees expected, what technical support is available. If bringing your own equipment, make sure you know how to use them properly.
Have a Plan B in case of technical challenges. For instance, if your PowerPoint presentation fails to load for any reason, have cue cards ready that you can speak from. Better yet, memorize your presentation and carry on as if nothing untoward has happened.
Being passionate and enthusiastic about your subject adds a persuasive force to your presentation that can be very attractive for your listeners.
Who would you rather listen to, someone who drones on and on or someone who is clearly loves the subject matter they are sharing with you and is excited just talking about it?
Here’s a great tip. For every hour that you speak on a subject, make sure you back it up with 5 hours’ worth of knowledge.
If you try to get by with the minimum amount of work, you may find yourself running out of things to say during the presentation, and adding very little real value to your listeners. Do them and yourself a service by reading widely and deeply so that you have something engaging, profound, funny or useful to contribute. No listener wants to go away feeling that they have wasted their time attending your presentation.
Manage Negative Self-Talk
It is normal and human to feel an attack of anxiety before delivering a presentation, especially in front of strangers. You may even wonder why anyone would want to come and hear you speak.
A good way to overcome this is to take the focus off yourself. Get out of your own way. Put yourself in the shoes of the listeners who have invested an hour of their time to hear you speak.
How can you make their experience positive and worthwhile?
What insights and sharing would add the most value to them and reward them for their confidence in you?
Feedback is undeniably useful if you desire excellence, because it gives you immediate and concrete information on how and where you can improve.
For instance, you could rehearse your presentation in front of a group of trusted friends, ask for feedback, and integrate the comments and suggestions into your next presentation. Because you have had the benefit of going through the presentation in front of others and your delivery and content are much better than they were, you may find the actual presentation much more relaxing and enjoyable.
It’s okay to admit you don’t know
One of the commonest fears of public speakers is being asked questions they can’t answer.
If a listener asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, what should you do?
It may surprise you to know that most people are understanding and generous and will accept an “I don’t know”. After all, no one can be expected to know everything.
However, if you want to be remembered as the speaker who did more than others, consider how you can turn an “I don’t know” to your advantage.
Can you offer to find out the solution and let your audience know what you discovered? For instance, you might post the answer to your website or to a forum that your listeners frequent. Or you might ask for your attendees’ details and send out an email.
Little details like this are what make you memorable and outstanding as a public speaker and differentiate you from someone else who does only the minimum.