Recently at The BizDojo in Auckland, there’s been an influx of public speaking opportunities. It’s a really fantastic thing to see your peers suddenly becoming thought leaders, inspire-ers, and teachers. The problem here is, many of us are not acclimated to this role. Standing up in front of strangers, can and often is, a daunting task. In fact, public speaking is often polled as the most common fear amongst Americans (I assume this is probably applicable to most western countries) - more so than spiders!
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been a public speaker, a master of ceremonies, or just the guy that has to stand up in front of a crowd and talk. I still get nervous on the day of speaking, whether it’s a crowd of 30 or an arena of 3000. For me, it’s a love/hate relationship; I’d equate it to what sky-diving is like, or perhaps what doing exercise is like. Often the thought is scary, or perhaps just an annoyance, but once you’re out there doing it, it’s fun and exciting, and you look back when it’s over and feel great about it. Unless of course the parachute fails to open, or you break an ankle in the process.
So, in order to help the world of our faithful readers, I’ve collected some info and small secrets from people around The BizDojo (as well as some of my own) to see how they tackle their public speaking anxieties. Here they are, listed in an easy and digestible format:
1. Preparation! Of course this is the obvious one. Have your ideas set out. Make a plan. Create an introduction that hooks the crowd. Even in times when I had to MC to thousands of screaming university students before their next big musical act came on, I remember sitting in the back, figuring out an interesting way to introduce them, or how to hype the crowd. Short snippets of structure can make a massive difference. If the nature of the speech is impromptu, having this framework still helps dramatically, so that you have a natural flow of where your “filler” comes from and goes to.
2. Don’t eat a huge Big Mac Combo with extra cheese and a big glass of milk beforehand.
3. Practice! If you have the opportunity, show your presentation to someone, or give the speech in front of a group that you have at least some sort of trust in. At first, even that can be daunting, but whenever someone says they have something to present, I immediately call them up on it and lock in a time for them to run through it. It always proves beneficial, builds confidence, and helps isolate any problem areas that need working on.
4. If you’re blind like me, take your glasses off. This has the effect of turning your audience into an amorphous blob of colours and unidentified shapes that may weirdly cough or sneeze. Suddenly it doesn’t feel like I’m publicly speaking at all.
5. Passion! If you genuinely care about the topic, people can feel it. So if you can, tell a story, and relate ideas to people’s lives - it helps deliver your message powerfully, and creates a chronological flow of ideas. If you know your material, you can engage in an almost conversational manner. If your listeners feel like they’re being talked to, rather than at, they’re naturally going to be more engaged.
6. Before starting your speech, swallow. It may sound dumb, but you’d be surprised how people salivate or get a dry mouth nervously before starting. Then four seconds after getting into it, they have to stop for that key moment and do the essential swallow routine. Rookie move.
7. Breathe! Even in natural conversation people use “uh” and “umm.” But you should find that the more confident you are talking about something, the less of these are used. If you get to a point where you start stumbling and using fillers, you’re allowed to pause, take a breath, collect thoughts, and then keep on going. If you get really good at it, you can turn this pause into the ever-so-doted-upon “dramatic pause.”
8. Don’t forget that your audience is human too. Relate to them. Remind them that you’re up there giving a speech, and if it makes you feel better just make a joke of it and say “hey so uh, I’m a human being too, and my doctor says I say ‘umm’ too much.” Maybe this isn’t a great example, but you get the idea - it’s ok to laugh at yourself a little bit. Most people in your shoes would feel the same way.
9. Stand up straight! Make sure you aren’t awkwardly upright, or slouching and inaudible. Just… you know… do what normal people do when they just hang out and converse.
There’s the age old wisdom that you should imagine the audience in their underwear because it makes them appear dumber, more vulnerable, and less serious. Therefore, by default you don’t take their opinion seriously, and so your confidence is boosted. I would argue that this probably isn’t what you want from your audience. Building a wall is the opposite of building rapport, which is the most important thing in a short-term relationship.
So the take home message here, aside from not filling up on an abundance of fast food prior to your moment of glory is this: PRACTISE AND PREPARE! Failing to plan is planning to fail (and a whole raft of other cliches). Once you have solid knowledge of your material, make sure you can connect with your audience. It’s pretty much that simple.
Gil Amir is the Community and Communications Coordinator of BizDojo Auckland.