Don’t let the fear of public speaking break you
When you own a business, any time you speak in public you are representing your business, your brand and your values. That’s a lot of pressure, especially when you consider that most people are already nervous about speaking in front of people.
There’s no magic cure for fear of public speaking (and secretly we love it – we could talk numbers all day long), but do I still get nervous before a speaking gig? You bloody bet I do. I feel sick, honestly I could throw up each time. But once I start speaking, that fear goes away as I am so thrilled to be able to share my knowledge.
Whilst public speaking may not be natural to many people, there are some things you can do to feel more confident, comfortable and natural in the spotlight while drawing your audience in.
1. Tell a relevant story
Stories are a great way to hold your audience’s attention and keep them emotionally invested in your presentation. Take them on that journey with you, make them feel involved. Make sure the story is relevant to your overall topic, otherwise they will wonder why you spent time on it. The story can be about you personally or about someone at your business or a client.
Audiences like a personal connection with their speaker, and telling a story is a great way to not only establish credibility but to connect with the people listening to you. Be honest with your story and don’t be afraid to share tales of your own failures or adversity.
2. Keep the focus on you
Figures and graphics make presentations memorable but too many slides and your audience will stop focusing on what you say. Plus, slides can be BORING.
Their attention will only be on the visual in front of them. Use graphics sparingly, to make a vital point or to illustrate data that’s too complex to say easily.
And please don’t read directly from the slides, instead use it as a prompt to remind you of what you wanted to say and grab the audience’s interest. The slides are really just a comfort blanket to wrap you in a big bear hug when you get a bit distracted, but trust in yourself that your topic by heart. This is your jam.
3. Be yourself
Audiences like speakers who are genuine, whether that’s in the form of being highly energized, somewhat funny, or more laid back. They can tell when speakers are trying to be something they aren’t, and changing your style will make you more uncomfortable when the spotlight is on you. If your style is laidback develop a more relaxed presentation.
If you hate having slides, don’t have them. If you want to write on a flip chat, do that. If you want to do a role play, go for your life. Do whatever you would do in your everyday business dealings. Public speaking should just be an extension of your existing business model – not something completely separate and new.
Know who you are and how you’re most comfortable and stay true and authentic during your presentation.
4. Practice, practice, practice (and then practice again)
Okay, it’s not the most ground-breaking advice, but one of the main concerns about public speaking is the worry that something will go wrong. The best way to prevent something from going wrong is to practice it as much as possible.
Write your presentation beforehand and read it out loud. First practice reading it out loud just to yourself. This will help you find any awkward phrasing or sentences that are too long. Then get your family or some friends together to hear it. Ask them for feedback about your content or your presentation. Did you speak too quickly? Look down too much? Seem uncomfortable? Use their feedback as you continue to practice.
And my best practice tip – practice in front of the mirror. Yep. Look at yourself whilst talking really gives you the best indication of what the audience will see. It makes you look up, look alive and smile.
The more familiar you are with your presentation, the more comfortable you will feel. And, because you will become more familiar with it as you practice, you will spend much less time checking your notes, which will make the whole thing feel more natural.
Public speaking is generally more feared than going to the dentist, but financially so much more rewarding. You will be hooked in no time.
There will always be minor glitches or unexpected snags that happen in presentations. But the majority of the time the audience won’t even know. Just roll with the punches and deliver as much value as possible. Don’t spend too much time worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong, instead focus on things going right.