The heart palpitations. The nervous sweat beading around the back of your neck. You’re hot and flustered – it’s like you have a fluffy scarf wrapped far too many times around your neck, while standing on the beach in the blazing sun in the middle of summer – suffocating. Your belly feels like a jumbled mix of unidentified things and if you closed your eyes you’d swear you were sea sick. And the a headache – the kind that feels like a needle is being hammered into your skull by a drunk guy; some times he would hit it but generally he would miss and you would feel the brunt of the hammer on your noggin.
This is public speaking for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to be scary. Here are a few of my top hints and tricks as someone who essentially public speaks for a living:
1. Know your material.
This is my number one piece of advice. When you know what you are talking about, and truly comprehend it, then you will feel more confident. There’s only one thing worse than the person who gets up there and wastes your time through lack of knowledge – and that’s being the person that’s standing there stumbling through information that could have been prepared better. There may come times when you have to speak about something you are less familiar with, and that’s ok – there are strategies for that too. But generally speaking, know your shit. And if you get a chance to practice in front of someone, even your dog – take it. It will help more than you realise and will be worth feeling stupid standing in your PJs, rehearsing with your teddy.
2. Pay attention to your body.
For goodness sake, BREATH! It is amazing how many people forget to breath. Just take some deep breaths. When you are nervous you can also tend to move and fidget a lot, like you have ants in you knickers or something – this is a dead giveaway that you are not feeling confident. One way to combat this is to put your weight on the toes of your feet. This will help to stabilise you and reduce your movement.
3. Watch you language.
If you “ummm….” one more time, I swear I will come up there and…! Don’t “umm…” – it ruins lives. Another fatal error is attempting to use language that you are not comfortable with. Perhaps they are technical terms in which case you need to practice saying them out loud, but other times people try to be fancy by using words that they normally wouldn’t and it just comes across disjointed and unauthentic. Try working new words into your every day vocabulary before you start pulling out the big guns in front of a crowd.
4. Sort out your sight lines.
One thing that can happen when nerves kick in, is rapid eye movement. I like to skim the rooms in the last few moments before I begin and in those first few seconds of a presentation to see who is looking particularly attentive and/or supportive. I like to find three-four people in different parts of the room and I alternate between each, essentially speaking to them. Making eye contact with those particular people. If at any point the person you are talking to seems to lose interest, let them go – find another anchor person who is being encouraging. And whatever you do, don’t just keep your eyes down the whole time – this drives me nuts – look up from your notes frequently – or better yet, don’t use notes. People want to see your pretty face and it will help for your audience to hear you better.
5. Final things to remember.
Contrary to popular, and some what ridiculous, advice, don’t try to imagine them naked – why would that ever make anyone feel better? That’s just insane. The main thing to remember is that you know more about this topic and the approach you have taken, than anyone sitting in front of you. That’s why your glorious self is up there public speaking and individuals in the audience are not. And finally, my last nugget of wisdom is that the more often you speak in public, the more natural it will become – hang in there – it gets better!