I know everyone has heard the stat of public speaking being the second known fear right behind death. Those five minutes before I have to present, my body begins to shake, my throat gets dry, I lose my train of thought and then I hear my name. It’s go time. The weird thing for me is standing behind a podium. I don’t know what it is but I hate it. I would rather have a mic and walk around. Maybe it’s knowing everyone is watching me. If I am sitting on a stage or on a panel, your girl will kill it. But that podium, not for me. Now that I have a ton of speaking engagements under my belt, I am confident enough to change the stage set up so that I am comfortable. How do you feel about public speaking?
I believe there are several different formats of public speaking. For instance, standing in front of a room of people and presenting on a certain topic; presenting along with a PowerPoint presentation; speaking during a meeting; participating in a panel discussion; being interviewed for a radio spot; and being interviewed for television. The list goes on and on. There are tons of tips out there to get you prepared for your speaking engagement. To keep it simple (even though there is nothing simple about public speaking) remember you were asked to speak because you are the subject matter expert of the topic. Having said that, if you are not the expert of the topic, decline the invitation. But let’s dive deeper into this preparation.
First things first, know your audience. Here’s an example. If the topic you are speaking about is software, find out from the event contact if the audience will include users, developers, a mix, potential clients and then cater your remarks to those individuals. A developer doesn’t want to hear why they should use the software. They want to know best practices for implementing the software and any technical information needed. A user would want to know best practices for using the software and how it can make their lives easier. Does that make sense?
Know the environment. This statement covers a few things in regards to speaking. Are you in a large room with horrible acoustics? Are you on a stage? Will you be speaking on a topic that will make the audience uncomfortable, like discussing potential downsizing? Will you have a mic? Is this a formal discussion or an informal discussion? Knowing everything about the room, AV, the venue will make you more at ease and eliminate any issues prior to your presentation or during your presentation.
You should arrive at the venue at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time. You may be presenting after someone and they could finish early and your time is moved up. Or vice versa, the speaker before is running over. You should also use this time to test all of the AV in the room. If you have a presentation, make sure you know how to use the remote to advance the slides. If you have sound for a video, make sure the speakers are working. Test the mic to make sure you don’t have any feedback while speaking or walking around. Everyone hates that loud screeching noise mics make when you get to close to (fill in the blank) in the room. Do a run through of your walk to the spot you will be speaking. If you are speaking on a stage, check to see if there are stairs and take a walk up and down the stairs. Good tip, watch for cords.
Yes you should practice your presentation days before your scheduled date. I love doing my presentation at home in front of a mirror. If you are anything like me, you are the worst critic of yourself and believe me the things you screw up on at home in front of the mirror, you will do it while you are presenting in front of an audience. I usually screw up on the pronunciation of words, while I am practicing if this happens I change the word to something that flows better. Depending on the number of people you will be speaking in front of, you should practice and prepare for distractions. Cell phones may ring, a person may get up and leave out, the door may slam, people may begin to raise their hands for questions. All of these things can trip up a presenter but the more you prepare for distractions the better you will handle them. If you are being interviewed for radio or television, you should have three stories prepared to tell related to the topic of discussion. This is the time to control the narrative and keep the facts that you want to promote front and center.
This next tip I always hated to hear. The best way to get over your anxiety of public speaking is to do it more. Someone would tell me that and I would instantly think, “are you freaking crazy, I’m about to die and you want me to get in front of the gun again”. Now I will say the more I did presentations the less anxiety I had. Don’t get me wrong, I still freak out a little before I have to present but I no longer freeze up. Yes I have stood in front of a crowd and said nothing at all. Think of Cindy Brady when the camera came on and she focused on the red light and didn’t say a word. That was me. Wow, those were good times.
In the end find a style that works best for you. Remember you were asked to speak because you are the expert on the topic. This is your time to provide the audience with information so you own the room. Take your time, slow down, slow down, slow down and get your point across. You’ve got this and you will survive.