If at some point in life you get an opportunity to perform in public – grab it. Public speaking is a valuable and transferable skill which expands your professional limits, reframes your mind and provides powerful leadership experience.
To make your way to the stage as smooth as possible, you can use the 5 tips I’ve listed below. It helped me perform at different business events and although some might sound obvious, I found it useful and thus worth mentioning.
Tip 1: How to handle the nerves?
Imagine, it’s your time to walk out on that stage, take a microphone and give a speech, but you feel overwhelmed: your body is overstressed, all muscles are tensed up, heartbeat is in your head and the words can hardly come out…
Does it sound familiar?
If yes then I have good news for you: it’s perfectly normal to feel this way. It’s believed that the fear of public speaking is among the strongest fears you may ever deal with and it is also the number one reason why people refuse to come on stage or underperform if they do.
People worldwide struggle to overcome fear of public speaking, but for some who failed, they’ve decided to prevent themselves from speaking altogether. However, giving up could cost your job, as it could be detrimental when management expects you to present a pitch.
The first step in overcoming this fear is to recognise that it is absolutely normal to experience all these weird symptoms. It has nothing to do with your professionalism, intellect and especially courage; it is just a human nature.
Most of the times you are afraid of public judgement or even worse – public failure. And consequently, you have questions popping up in your head: what if I forget my speech? What if I say something wrong? What if someone asks me something I don’t know? What if everyone can see that I am scared? The list can go on and on.
A small amount of performance anxiety drives us to deliver the best speech we are capable of, but stressing too much can make you forget everything you practiced so hard on for the delivery. Getting stress levels down to a manageable amount may help you more.
The ‘fear of stage’ is not that complicated but it is structured with several layers. So, let’s break it down!
You and your mind
Many fears only exist in our minds and we all know that. Often we overestimate the threats. That is why it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself in terms of your performance and its results. Ask yourself: what is the worst-case scenario? Does my life depend on it? Will I lose everything if I don’t do great? Picture yourself five years from now – how important will your performance be?
Now, before you reach out for a tomato to throw at me (or close this article) hear me out. Yes, I did suggest that you apply the ‘I don’t care how it all goes’ attitude and depreciate the whole performance. Think about it: don’t you usually do better when you don’t care? On a date? At a business meeting? At an interview?
Of course, it should be a healthy kind of ‘I don’t care’. ‘Responsible depreciation’ of your performance makes you feel more relaxed because it eliminates unnecessary pressure. When we believe in ourselves, it changes the negative feeling into a more positive one.
Don’t be overly optimistic; rather level it out with a healthy dose of reality. Cut down on negativity because it will manifest during your presentation.
Look, it’s just another step in your life – nothing extraordinary!
You and your body
Clearly, your mind and body are connected! To refresh your mind – focus on your body! Before it’s your turn to give a speech, find some time and place to exercise: warm up your face, your voice and the rest of your body.
Spend several minutes making faces – it helps remove facial tension. You could also check out some facial exercises actors’ use which involves the cheeks, forehead, eyes, lips and tongue. Trust me, it will make a lot of difference.
For voice warm-ups, you can use the singers’ techniques – raise and lower your voice, change your timbre, etc. I prefer rapping to make sure I sound clear. Then goes the rest of your body. Dance, shake your hands and legs, sit down and stand up – or simply just freestyle. It will remove the stress from your body and make your moves smoother while you are on stage.
The whole warm-up session should take around 10 minutes. The best time for warm-ups should begin at least 30 minutes before your speech. If it is done too early, you might ‘freeze-up’ again.
Right before you go to the microphone, focus on your breath. Deep and calm breathing will help you avoid feeling suffocated. Taking a few deep breaths will help calm the nerves and leave you feeling centered and ready for the task.
Don’t underestimate the warm-up. When you see a speaker with an awkward face, shaking or breaking voice, then you know it is the lack of warming up.
You and the audience
In most cases, you know more about your topic than the rest of the audience. It gives you an advantage and should make you feel more confident in presenting it. In other words, if you make any minor mistakes or forget some details – it will not be noticeable for the audience.
You may also worry about unfriendly or even aggressive listeners (tricky questions or attempts to throw you off-track). Well, truth be told, business audiences mostly consist of intelligent and well-educated people, who came to receive new knowledge. Most may offer constructive feedback and politely ask their questions.
It’s not an election debate where the opponent tries to punch you with questions. However, if you do come across a ‘weird guy in the room’ remember to remain calm, polite and understanding – let him take his frustration out but don’t take it personally. More importantly, do not react. In most cases, you’d see that the rest of the audience ignores him as well.
You and other speakers
Being compared with other speakers is one of the more common fears when you’re presenting at business conferences. One thing to remember here: business conference is not a competition! There are no judges and nobody will give you a score afterwards or put you on a rating list.
Never look at other speakers as your rival or a potential threat. Instead, focus on yourself and pick out interesting tips other speakers use to incorporate them into your future presentations. If anything, these are learning opportunities that will help hone your public speaking skills.
Read: How I Conquered My Fear Of Public Speaking
Tip 2: Be prepared
It goes without saying that you should prepare in advance. And rehearsal is a key part of the preparation because the more you practise – the better you get. TED speakers say they rehearse their speeches around 1000 times before finally going on stage and I’m sure it is their secret weapon.
Preparation looks like a learning process – you start with the ‘basics’ and improve as you go along. ‘Basic’ means you know your speech and its structure; you know your audience; you have an FAQ list (including potentially sharp questions) at hand.
When you have conquered the ‘basics’, proceed to work on the quality of your performance: the speed of your speech; the volume of your voice; pauses and emphasis; your body language.
The best way to rehearse is to practise in front of the camera. Having a video footage of yourself provides you with a complete picture of your performance and it is much better than a voice recording only.
Some speakers exhibit their lack of confidence by having poor posture and mannerisms. By having a video as a reference, people may become aware of these negative gestures and demeanor while in front of their audience. Additionally, capturing this on video and seeing it for yourself can help you avoid them the next time you speak in front of other people.
Perform-watch-improve. Repeat. The more you do it, the more your inner confidence grow. I’d say that one rehearsal equals to one per cent of confidence. So you know what to do to feel 100 per cent confident on stage.
Image source: https://www.adorama.com
Amidst all the rehearsals, it is also important to give yourself a ‘day off’. And one day before your speech, stop all your rehearsals. You have already done enough and it is now time to have some rest. Otherwise, you may experience an overexcitement which leads to additional pressure on your nervous system.
You may also want to refrain from memorising your speech – leave some space for creativity and be natural. Don’t be afraid to lose your track especially when you have your PowerPoint presentation on a screen – it’s an excellent reminder.
Tip 3: Find your style
Don’t try to copy someone else, feel comfortable being yourself and use your style. You have a huge personality with a unique background and experiences. You have your way to perform in public even if you are a beginner. Some will like your style, others might not and that’s okay. Remember that you are not a 100-dollar bill so not everyone will like you!
I learnt this the hard way. One of my first public speeches was at a law conference. Most speakers had long presentations, did not interact with the audience and were practically reading their notes. This clearly wasn’t my style but I decided to deliver my speech in a similar manner to blend in and ‘be like them’. Guess what happened? Yup, I was very close to a complete failure.
Find your style! Will you be one who cracks jokes? Will you be calm or unpredictable? Will you throw objects towards the audience or ask someone to come on stage? Will you be funny, serious or maybe personal? Find your style, work on it, stick to it and improve.
Looking back at that law conference and my speech, I understand that if I had followed my style, I would have felt a lot more confident and happier with myself. But hey! It was my experience, just another step in my life – nothing extraordinary!
Tip 4: Involve your audience
You know a good public speaker when you see one. This person can hold your attention, bring up different emotions and make you feel involved. Such speakers and their performances are the most successful because people remember them. It’s not an easy skill, but you can develop it by practising.
At the start, try to build some rapport with your audience. The main goal is to break-the-ice (the invisible wall separating you and your audience). The responses that you get from your audience will also raise your confidence level as you interact with them, gaining their trust and attention.
There are two types of interaction: direct and indirect.
Direct interaction can be in the form of asking questions to get a response from the audience. Such questions build a link between you and your audience which may sometimes provide you with important information. Here are several types of questions you can try:
‘Raise your hand’ question.
E.g. “Who uses credit cards in this room? Raise your hands!”
Can be followed by: “Ok, now how many of you use MasterCard”
You make people perform an action (raise a hand) which is good because you get their attention and you involve them. More importantly, you might be able to get some valuable information from their responses. It’s a good technique and can be used multiple times.
‘Explain to me’ question works best in a combination with the ‘Raise your hand’ question.
E.g. “Who uses credit cards in this room? Raise your hands. Lady in a black suit, could you please explain to us how does it work?”
This technique allows you to shift the attention of the audience to someone else. The best part is, the audience and you get a client’s/user’s perspective, which is priceless.
E.g. “What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the term ‘credit card’?”
Here, you want to understand the emotions people have when they think about the topic you are about to discuss – it might be your product/idea/etc. Association helps you build closer relationships with the audience.
These questions can help you kick off your presentation with a dynamic opening and keep the audience tuned.
Additional effect can be achieved with indirect interaction. However, ‘indirect’ means you do not expect any answers, but still make your audience feel involved. It happens when you add a story in your speech.
Books on public speaking say that if you want the audience to be inspired, tell it with a story rather than plain description. And it is absolutely true. When you tell a story, people start to play it in their minds as if they were reading a book.
Not only it is engaging, but it also helps you capture their attention. I personally like to start my speech with a story that is related to my topic.
Here’s my story as an example (my topic was on the corporate pension plan):
“I love travelling. Last month, I attempted climbing an active volcano in Kamchatka. The way to the top was about 6 hours by foot. The weather conditions were constantly changing from cold wind and snow to bright sun. A couple of hours into the climb, I was getting tired, thankfully our guide notified us that break time is near. Along the way, I saw a group of people moving slowly. When we passed them, I realised that all of them were in their early to mid-‘60s and some even older.
I started a quick chat and found out that they were from Japan. They all looked fit and healthy, enjoying their walk. I was shocked because I can’t imagine a 60-year-old from our country (I am from Russia) doing the same climb.
Why? Because our government doesn’t provide sufficient financial support to our seniors. More importantly, it is also not in our culture to think about retirement and set aside pension funds for the future. But I think it’s time to make a change….”
Tip 5: Mind the timing
When delivering a public speech, it is important to be mindful of the timing. Even if your topic is complicated – try to keep it to 20 minutes max. Research shows that 20 minutes is the average focus span of a person. If you exceed it, you’re likely to lose their attention. That’s why all TED speakers are limited to strictly 18 minutes, even if they were to talk about astrophysics or chemical experiments (I mean something really complicated). Don’t be afraid as you will still have some time for Q&A after your speech.
Bonus tip: Share something new
Whenever I deliver a speech, I always believe in imparting something fresh and new for my audience to take home. Like my mom always said, whenever you read a book, you should at least gain one new knowledge in compensation for your time spent.
The same it is with public speaking – try to share something that the audience didn’t already know before and they will thank you for that! Piquing their interest will capture their attention, which is precisely what any speaker wants.
Good luck to you and I’m sure you will be a great public speaker!
View: Infographic: 7 Storytelling Structures To Improve Your Presentations