Nervous about public speaking? You’re not alone! A fear of public speaking is one of the top fears of Americans next to snakes, bugs, heights and drowning! The stats are fine and good, but how to I deal with it.
3 ways to deal with those ever present nerves as you move towards unmuting yourself and letting your voice be heard to a larger audience. Whether it's in person or virtual (or both) Shift the spotlight, Prepare and Argue with that inner voice.
SHIFT THE SPOTLIGHT
When you’re public speaking, often we get bogged down in thoughts like “What will they think of me?” or “What if they judge me” or “I’m not the top expert on this topic, why should they listen to me.” These are all examples of having the spotlight in your mind on you. The first think you have to do is reach up and turn that spotlight onto your audience. The fact is, you’re there to present some information so they’re smarter, stronger, better, or better prepared to make a decision on something. You’re there to give them information and it’s about them, not about you. Be sure your presentation is audience focused. You’ve thought about their needs, their motivations, their interests and what will matter to them. Then tailor the information you’re providing to all of that so you’re providing them with what they need. During your delivery, don’t worry about what they think of you. Focus on delivering the information they need to help make them better. That shift in spotlight will help you be more confident in your delivery, because it’s not about you any more. Try it!
Any time someone says “I’m better when I wing it” I cringe a little. There are very few people who are actually better when they make it up as they go along. There are a few more people who THINK they’re better improvising, but could actually be even more powerful if they took the time to prepare. And if public speaking makes you really nervous, winging it certainly isn’t going to help! If you want to be able to combat those nerves, preparation is key.
Prepare your information. You probably know a lot about the topic you’re presenting on, but giving it all to your audience will probably muddy your message. You’re likely to go on and on and on and onzzzzzzzzz and lose your audience. Especially if you’re nervous, going on and on will happen! So preparing what key topics you’re going to cover, and what other topics you’re going to strategically omit in order to strengthen the topics you are hitting will help you from the ever popular nerve induced diarrhea of the mouth.
Prepare your notes: IF you need notes (which I think is often a crutch that you really don’t need, but if you need it….) never take a script up with you. That’s a recipe for getting lost, and if that happens when you’re already nervous, you’re definitely going to barf in the planter.
I used to think note cards were a great idea. Then I saw a keynote speaker in a ballroom full of 1000 eager audience members trip and watch her cards scatter across the stage upon her entrance. Even if she had them numbered, there was no way she was going to be able to get them back in order and keep her presentation going. I vowed that day never to use note cards.
Then I started using an outline on a piece of paper. I’d practice with my outline so I knew it really well, and could glance down and know exactly what to say next. It was smooth and didn’t distract from my presentation. Then I walked on stage in a very high stakes presentation that I really wanted to get right. I was nervous, and you know how sometimes your body betrays you, and your leg will shake uncontrollably? Or your hand? Well in this case it was my arm, and that piece of paper was shaking like an aspen leaf in a hurricane! Want to talk about feeling the spot light on me, burning me to ashes? That made me so much more nervous, and distracted from my confidently delivered message. So now, If I take up notes, I will put my outline on an ipad. It won’t shake, and you can easily glance down and glance back up! (just be sure your battery is fully charged, and you turn off the “screen lock” feature!)
Practice with your visuals: If you have a powerpoint presentation, be sure to practice with it, so you know when to flip slides, you know what’s next, and you can present it in a nice and smooth way. When you know your outline and you know your visuals really well, your nerves will dissipate a little. I’m not going to say they’ll go away, but it will definitely help with this next part.
Prepare your outfit: I know this sounds weird and vain, but stick with me here. You want to wear something that’s comfortable, fits well, and is professional looking. Try it on a few days before so you’re not stressing out the morning of your speech. Work out the bugs before the day. You’ll have plenty to worry about that you can’t control, this is one of those things you can! So think about this ahead of time because whether we like it or not, the visual presentation you put out there is something people pay attention to, and will reflect on their belief in your competence.
PREP AN ARGUMENT
One of the main challenges when you’re about to start a presentation that will hit your nerves right in the gut is that inner voice. “You’re going to screw up” “What if you forget?” “What if you trip?” “ They’re going to throw tomatoes at you.” And all that fun crap your inner doubtie pants can come up with! You’ve got to have an argument prepared.
Think about what your inner voice of doubt says. “What if I go blank??” is a very common one! Prepare yourself so it’s easy to answer back “You’ve practiced and you know your stuff, so it probably won’t happen. If it does, glance at your outline, and you’ll get right back on track! You’re ready and you’re going to crush this.” Then slap yourself on the butt and get out there and knock it out of the park. If you’re worried about them judging you, try this one. “Public speaking is such a common fear, they’re just glad they’re not up here. I’m ready, I know my stuff, and I look professional. It’s all going to be fine.” That inner voice will squawk. You’ve got to have the rational argument to counter it.
Get out there and speak! The more you do it, the less the nerves will get to you. You’ll be able to say “I’ve done this before and was successful. I can do it again, and will today!” (another rational argument for your arsenal!) Toastmasters International is a fabulous club where you can practice your public speaking in a low stakes environment so when it really matters, you’ll knock it out of the park. The nerves will still be there, but they’ll be manageable, and less likely to sabotage your success.
See you on stage!