April 14, 2014 by Diana M
In case you didn’t know, speaking in public is one of the top 5 fears a person can have. Some say it’s no.1, some say it takes second place, right after death. Bottom line is, people are scared to get up there, in front of others, and talk. This fear is actually more about being judged by a whole bunch of people than anything else. You’re scared that you’re going to suck and that they’re going to see it, talk about it, laugh at you, throw tomatoes, call you names, etc. And it has happened. Even to the best of us.
Public speaking is scary because it makes you vulnerable, and not just in front of one person, but in front of a whole bunch of people you may or may not know. Some of the best speakers and trainers out there still get on a stage taking a little bit of fear with them. But they’re the best not because they look oh so comfortable out there as if they belong on that stage, but because they took that fear and turned it into something more; also, because they know that with enough confidence and preparation they can handle anything.
But what about the rest of us, mere mortals? What about the students that have to get in front of their entire class and present a project? What about the employees that have meetings in which they have to pitch their ideas and work? What about those public events where you have to get in front of a crowd and speak, hoping that the mini-heart attack you’re feeling is not really a heart attack?
This post is for those people. So here are a couple of tips and tricks to give a kick-ass public presentation:
1. Acknowledge Your Fears
One of the most important aspects when you know you have to give a public presentation is to realize and accept the fact that it is something scary. Acknowledge it and let it go. First step to controlling your body when put in such a situation is to actually realizing how it reacts. The normal stage fright symptoms are: shaking knees, hands and voice, blushing or redness, sweat, loss of words and a feeling of overly dried mouth combined with a need for continuous swallowing.
So how do you get over your stage fright? One of the things you could do is practice in front of a mirror. It may seem silly and rather stupid, but facing yourself is like facing your worst critic. You can notice your body language, the way you speak and phrase words, how you move your hands and learn when to take a breath. Then you can try talking in front of a few selected people: parents, friends, co-workers.
Another tip would be to purposely put yourself out there, in different type of situations that will allow you to be vulnerable in front of others. For example, when out with a group of friends, talk about something to all of them, not just one friend at a time. Observe how they react to what you say. Try and take the initiative to talk more. Even if you say stupid things at first, don’t be discouraged, keep at it. Build confidence by talking.
2. Preparation Is The Key
There are 5 questions you need to answer when you know you need to prepare a speech in front of an audience:
a) Who – who exactly is your audience? Are you going to talk to your classmates, or have a presentation in front of several teachers? Are your co-workers around your age or older/younger? Is your target group made out of business-people, scholars, or just persons interested in whatever it is you have to say? It’s important to know your audience so you can adjust your speech to them.
b) What – Closely tied to ‘who’, this one is all about the subject of your speech. Are you supposed to present your thesis or give a presentation on a cool project you liked? Are you going to talk about a personal experience or do you have to speak about a business models? Figure out what exactly is it that your presentation is about so you’ll know if you should approach it in a more formal, serious manner, or a more informal, friendly, funny kind of way. On that same note, do your research before hand. Find out everything you need to know about the subject that you’ll be talking about. The knowledge will not only give you confidence in the subject itself, but will also prepare you for the questions the audience might ask.
c) When & Where – Are you going to speak in a small classroom or an auditorium? Is it a conference room or a coffeehouse? Are you going to have to use a microphone or just your voice? If you have the chance to arrange the room as you see fit, I’d suggest trying to make a semi-circle out of your audience. That way, you can see each and every one of them, they are the ones that will be exposed to you, so they can’t really hide in the back and ruin your presentation by playing pranks or being too bored that it eventually discourages you. Same thing goes for ‘when’. You have to prepare your speech according to the time that you’re supposed to give it. Take into consideration that people are tired or cranky in the mornings and evenings, so you should try and incorporate little jokes or energizing games that will help you catch their attention (or wake them up).
d) How – Best way to keep your audience interested is by using more than one simple method of presentation. If you’re allowed to use visual aids, I suggest you do so. The most efficient speakers that I’ve seen were those that had a simple Power Point or Prezi Presentation, using very little phrasing to express only the major, general ideas, while using their own speech to get into the necessary details. That way, the audience could remember the big picture, but could also pay attention to the speaker, who made sure to use the inflections in his voice as well as his own body language to attract them as well. In contrast, the most boring presentations were the ones read off of a paper by a person who never even bothered to make eye contact with anyone in the room, having a very monotonous voice tone.
3. While On Stage
The trickiest part is when you actually get in front of your audience to deliver your speech. That’s when your emotions are taking over and your fears are kicking in. If you’ve done your homework right, you should be fine with the speech itself. If you want to take control of your nerves, I suggest you look into some breathing exercises, or turn to yoga or meditation to tap into your inner-calmness. Yoga will teach you to control your breathing, loosen up your body and be in the moment. It’s a back and forth motion consisting of lean movement and deep concentration that will help immensely in any future situation, not just when giving a presentation. Meditation will aid in quieting your mind, and making the connection between body, mind and spirit. It will help you focus, be calm, attentive, and at peace. You will eliminate feelings of anxiety, nervousness, fear, etc.
Now, when you’re actually in front of your audience, here are some things you should remember:
– You should move your body, but not too much. Body language is extremely receptive by the audience, so your movements will be extremely important. If you’re overly energetic and move too much, you will tire them. If you stand still and don’t move at all, you will make them fall asleep. Figure out what your posture is and work on how you want to transmit your message through your body language. Use your hands and feet to punctuate on certain items, and your facial expressions to emphasize on what you’re speaking about
– Your voice should be loud enough for the last person in the back to hear, but not too loud to disturb the people in the front. Beside, you don’t want to lose your voice half-way through your presentation. Don’t be afraid to use a microphone to let yourself be heard
– Be as relaxed as possible. Don’t hunch your shoulders, don’t strain your voice, don’t sit in an uncomfortable position. Your audience will notice it.
– Make and keep visual contact with the people in front of you. Try to take in the whole room, moving slowly from one person to another, and looking them in the eyes. Stay with a person for 2-3 seconds at a time (more than 5 seconds becomes uncomfortable, less is as if you’re not acknowledging them). You can try different patterns for making visual contact too: try a left-right approach (looking to someone at the left side of the room, then to someone at the right side of the room), you can try doing the ‘W’ (left, far away corner, middle-left person in the first rows, middle-far away, etc), or simply looking randomly at people close or far away, from one direction of the room to the other.
– Don’t read off your notes, unless you’re presenting something really long and not easy to remember. Preferably, use visual aids to transmit the general ideas and talk about what you want to talk about.
– Some people try to channel their nervousness in an item or a certain habit. You’ll see people in front that’ll run their hands through their hair too often, play with a pen too much, tap their fingers, touch their ears, play with their glasses or jewelry. As far as I’m concern, that’s ok, as long as it’s not too often or doesn’t distract your audience. I noticed that sometimes I play with my thumb ring, and I do that not just when I’m on stage, but also off it, when I’m thinking or trying to figure out something that’s been puzzling me.
– Believe what you say. If you’re going to get up in front of people to transmit a message, make sure you know what you’re talking about, and then say with conviction in your voice. Take pauses to breathe in and out and to let your audience digest what they heard (or for an emotional effect), raise your tone a bit if the message requires something a bit more aggravating, emphasize on your key words.
4. Get Inspired
There are millions of Youtube videos out there you can check out if you want to see how other people are giving presentations. My favorite place to get inspired is Ted.com. I find so many great presentations with so many amazing speakers, I can only wish for more time to watch all the Ted talks I want. Check your favorite motivational quotes on Pinterest.com, look for random public presentation websites on StumbleUpon, or search for amazing speeches from various shows or movies on Youtube.
The thing to keep in mind is that you’re not the first to give a public presentation and you’re definitely not going to be the last person either. Even if you make mistakes at first, you have to remember that every expert was a beginner at first. It’s a trial and error process, just like with everything else out there. Do your homework, put in the hours, say it with conviction and you’ll have the audience at your feet.
Originally posted on Honesty for Breakfast