It’s notoriously hard to do. Everybody knows this. Your heart’s racing, you’ve forgotten all your stuff, there’s a good chance you’re going to throw up. Everyone’s here just to hear you speak. It’s time to go on.
But there are ways to conquer the fear. And when you get it right, public speaking can be exciting, fun, even rewarding.
Find your pre-ritual.
Now’s the time to get out all the jiggles, shuffles, hand-twitches, mumbling and voice-wobbles. Stand up straight and reach above your head to make yourself as tall as possible. Shake it out to loosen up your muscles. Open your mouth as wide as possible. Smile. Whatever works for you. This is the moment to channel that nervous energy and transform it into the powerful, positive energy you’ll use talking to your audience.
It’s just a conversation.
With a bunch of people. Many of whom you may not know. And you’re doing all the the talking. But they’re just human beings like you, so relax and talk to them like you know them.
This means knowing your stuff ahead of time. Notes are fine, but they should be brief enough so a quick glance is enough to keep you moving along.
Often when you’re up in front of people and you’re trying to talk intelligently about something you end up making sentences run on so long that you forget to take a breath and when that happens your voice goes all wobbly and you sound like you’re panicking and then you eventually sort of run out of air and your voice dwindles away and you have to just stop.
Break it up. Into smaller parts. Pause, take a breath after each part. Then move onto the next part. It sounds better, and will make a lot more sense.
Don’t stare at the screen.
Look at the audience and they’ll look at you, and that’s exactly where you want those eyeballs. You may sometimes have to direct attention to the screen, but remember that you’re the expert and they are there to see you.
Maybe you get completely lost. Maybe you start feeling nervous and need to get back on track. Maybe you’re thirsty. Stop, pick up your water, and take a sip. It’s ok, everyone will still be there when you get back.
Ever want to directly manipulate the emotions of other people? Here’s your chance. Smiling (at the right moments, not like a psychopath) will create a positive emotional connection with your audience and put them at ease.
Find the friendly faces.
If you have friends or colleagues in the audience, know where they’ll be ahead of time. Look them in the eye and talk directly to them — about 3 or 4 seconds per person is good, then move on. And if you don’t know anyone in the audience simply pick out a few friendly faces and talk directly to them.
Plant your feet solidly on the floor. When you move about, do it confidently and deliberately, then plant yourself on the floor again. Open your arms and hands to draw your audience in. By anchoring yourself in your space you become a dependable and confident focal point for your audience.
Find opportunities to speak.
You will get better at public speaking, with practice. Find as many chances as possible to speak to your team, your company, your community. Keep at it, find your own groove, and do it over and over.