Two Simple Ways to Ease Your Fears About Speaking in Public
It's one of the most-asked questions that people have about speaking in public. Whether they're doing a presentation, answering questions, or even doing a media interview, people always want to know how they can calm their nerves.
Let's face it, public speaking isn't something most people want to do. They run from it, rather than run towards it. The fear of failure is real, so almost everyone gets nervous before speaking to a crowd.
I've got it down to two simple things people need to do, so they won't have to worry about their nerves, but simple isn't always easy.
Have a Drink?
Last week I was doing a training session for a western Canadian engineering firm. I was working with engineers to show them how to answer questions better during interviews after making a pitch for a project. Later I worked with them on their public presentation skills.
A predictable question came up – What does somebody do to help settle their nerves when they speak in public, or need to answer questions from a panel?
Somebody in the group said when they have to speak to staff during an event such as a Christmas party, he found it helped him to have a drink or two before he speaks. Hey if it works for you then go for it I said, but that’s not one of the two things you need to do to relax.
One move that can help some people is to take what I call a deep-cleansing yoga breath or two before speaking. You have to be discreet about this and there are only some cases where you can do it, but It can help.
Really though, there are only two things that I believe will calm your nerves and neither relates to alcohol or breathing.
That’s right – preparation. Nothing fancy here folks. Just good old hard work to make sure you’re ready to speak to a group in any kind of setting. When you know what you plan to say, your confidence will emerge through the darkness of fear.
In the speaking business we call it “knowing your material.” Knowing what you’re going to say before you say it will allow you to say it better.
Don’t try to memorize it though. Even if you can memorize most of what you want to say it will come off sounding memorized and scripted. Know how you’re going to start, what you plan to say during the important part of the speech and how you’re going to close will make a world of difference.
Here’s a small tip that may help. I find people are generally the most nervous when they start speaking to a group, so prepare extra hard for that first 30 seconds. Perhaps verbalize what you plan to say several times in advance, something like this. “Thanks Tom for your introduction and thank you for asking me to speak today. I’ve been a fan of your organization and the work you do for a long time.” Then perhaps you would move into a story from there, but at least you are off and running without a stumble or looking overly nervous.
By the way, people would much rather listen to stories than somebody lecturing them, so use a story or two in your presentation. Keep them short and it helps if they make a point.
I think the vast majority of people do their best presentation when it’s not scripted, or in other words, they don’t have a word-for-word speech they’re reading. If you can use a few notes to remind you what you plan to say and do the necessary preparation, so you know where you’ll move within the speech you’ll do much better.
I use a slide deck to guide me through a presentation and I suggest you try it. Each slide reminds me of what I want to say. Just keep in mind, people came to hear you speak to them and not read from your slides. Your slide deck should support you, not tell the story. You have to be the star.]
This is the second key to speaking success. So often I’ve heard people talking about a speaker they heard and say something like, “He’s such a natural, or she really has a knack for speaking.” The truth is some people are better than others at public speaking, answering questions, or communicating in general, but most of us get better at public speaking the more they do. It really like playing a sport, or learning a craft. You get better by doing.
That man who is called a natural might have made presentations for ten years. I can guarantee he wasn’t as good when he started as he is now.
The trick is to get started. Run towards speaking opportunities rather than running away from them. If your company needs somebody to speak about a new project or pogrom its involved in, offer to do it and then start to prepare the right way. You might not be great, but you’ll learn and get better the next time you speak. Before you know it people will be talking about what a good speaker you are and call you “such a natural.”
You’ll chuckle and know it all comes down to two simple things - preparation and experience.