I hate public speaking.
I know a few people that have told me in all honesty that they really love it. I have a feeling that these people have something wrong with them.
One of the first public speaking disasters I was a part of was in high school. We did this competition called We The People and the culmination was this event where you’re supposed to testify in a simulated congressional hearing. So here I am, a cocky 11th grader going up to Olympia to do this competition and I told my group that I would take our opening statement.
When it was our turn to present, I sat down and said “Good afternoon.” And that’s all I said for about 30 seconds. I just sat there sweating and blanking my lines over and over (that I had memorized by the way). The judges of the competition acknowledged my uncomfortableness and asked if I needed some notes. I grabbed them and slaughtered the opening and then sank back into my chair.
It was a humiliating experience (one that I am still razzed about from time to time).
I’ve improved since then and do some speaking engagements on occasion. While I wouldn’t want to do it full time, the opportunities I’ve had to speak professionally are generally enjoyable because of the pre and post speaking opportunities to network and grow. How can you improve your public speaking skills?
Know Your Subject Matter
Most of my time isn’t spent on the presentation itself but on the researching aspect of it. If you want to speak and give people something to take away from the presentation, you have to know the subject matter in and out. This has two side effects. For one, your presentation material is simply going to be better with that research. Secondly, your ability to talk naturally and off-the-cuff about the subject matter is going to improve dramatically with more research.
This isn’t college either so start weeks ahead of time.
One of my favorite techniques to help a presentation run more smoothly is to tell stories during them. Stories are easy to remember for both you and the audience so you give them a takeaway right there. The other nice thing is that stories are easy to practice. I don’t need slides to practice telling stories. I can do it in front of my wife, family or even my cat. Repeating the story several times lets the delivery come off smooth and makes sure you get all of the detail in.
Take Every Opportunity to Speak
If I can speak somewhere, I will. If I turn down a speaking opportunity, it is because of cost of travel or because of a scheduling conflict. Sometimes I do very well, sometimes I … uh, don’t. It generally doesn’t matter in the long run as long as it isn’t an unmitigated disaster. Someone who does public speaking quite a bit told me to aim for ten speaking events per year. At the end of the year, regardless of how good or bad you did speaking, you will be significantly better, more consistent and more easily marketable.
Review Videos or Anonymous Written Reviews
Reviewing videos is PAINFUL but has actually helped me a bunch when I go to prepare for my next public speaking event. Watch it twice: once to get over how stupid you sound and twice to get down notes. And review the feedback from the people you are presenting to as well. Sure, some of it may not be related to the speaking but you can see how things like technical difficulties, room conditions and other uncontrollable aspects of the presentation can impact it. You can take steps to prevent that in the future.
How have you addressed your fear and improved your public speaking skills?