Public speaking: Trick or treat?
How do you feel about public speaking?
You might be energised by the spotlight, relishing the opportunity to share your knowledge with others.
Or perhaps you dread taking centre stage, finding it a daunting, uneasy prospect.
Either way, public speaking is undoubtably a key skill for content strategists and communication professionals.
We often find ourselves speaking in front of a crowd, whether it be running an ideation workshop, hosting an audience focus group, or offering valuable insight at a conference.
To help, we offer our top tips for boosting your confidence ahead of a public speaking opportunity.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Extensive preparation will help you feel at ease. Consult the free resources on the Toastmasters website. Know your subject. Design a strong set of slides. Memorise your workshop plan. If you have detailed knowledge of your material, then delivering it won’t be daunting – it will be a privilege.
It really does make perfect. Rehearse your presentation in front of the mirror, friends, family, colleagues. Consider joining a local public speaking group, of which there are many, to gain further experience. Ask for honest feedback, then act upon it. Better yet, rehearse in front of a video camera and critique yourself. This will help you…
3. Understand your nerves
What happens when you get nervous? Do you talk too fast? Look at your feet? Flap your arms like a seagull?
Understand your side effects when riddled with nerves. Knowing your bad habits is the first step to overcoming them. With further practice, they’ll be old news by the time you present, which is a comforting thought.
4. Espress… no!
Lay off the caffeine. Nothing will exacerbate your frayed nerves like a double shot of espresso right before taking to the lectern. It might give you a quick buzz, but you could soon find yourself babbling and jittering, whilst your heart pounds like a jackhammer.
Best to opt for a glass of water. It will keep you hydrated, stop your vocal chords becoming irritated, and stave off cottonmouth. You’ll also present with a calmness and clarity not afforded by your daily cortado.
But food is very much advised. The best way to drown out those pesky butterflies in your stomach is to drop a load of food on them. Never present on an empty tank. You’ll need your energy. Conference talks can last for close to an hour. That is a long time to be “on” in front of a crowd. Healthy blood sugar levels will keep you focussed and upright.
Public speaker Fred E Miller recommends adding bananas, cashew nuts, salmon and eggs to your shopping list to build your energy and minimise anxiety.
6. Meet your audience
A fantastic way to boost your confidence is to meet your audience before you take to the stage. Introduce yourself to a few of them. Get chatting. Have a laugh. You might be acquainted already from a previous refreshment break.
My talk at CASE Europe Annual Conference 2019 was one of the last speaking slots, which gave me a huge advantage. It meant I was presenting to lots of familiar faces due to my networking earlier in the week.
Meeting your audience beforehand will make you realise that they are perfectly lovely people. There is no need to be afraid of them. Especially because…
7. Your audience are on your side
Your audience want you to succeed. Remember: they have chosen to attend your talk, they are excited about hearing the content, so they have nothing to gain from you failing. If you do start struggling, look to your charming audience for a plethora of encouraging, non-verbal gestures. Lots of smiles and nods. Bottom line: you are not alone. The chairs facing you are full of friends.
8. Don’t confess your nerves
Many nervous speakers begin by announcing their nerves to the room, either overtly, “Please bear with me, this is my first time speaking at CASE,” or playfully, “Wow, there’s so many of you!” But, even with a lovely audience, this is a quick way to lose their trust in you. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Giving voice to your nerves will make them a reality. Instead…
9. Visualise success!
Think positively. Picture the audience laughing at your jokes, marvelling at your slides, teetering on the edge of their seat, all rapturous with fascination. Imagine how great you will feel if your presentation causes that reaction. American artist Audrey Flack believes that, “Visualisation is so powerful that when you know what you want, you will get it.” Now cast aside those nerves and make your success happen.
10. Predict your questions
Finally, one especially nerve-wracking element of public speaking is the smattering of questions at the end. They are so many unknowns. Who is asking them? What will they ask? What if I don’t have an answer ready?
A good trick is to prepare a long list of questions which your audience might ask. The more complicated the better. Ask your friends and colleagues to pose difficult questions when rehearsing in front of them. Push them to be challenging. No holds barred.
Tim Calkin, writing for Quartz at Work, suggests that, “You have to spend as much time preparing for the questions as you do the presentation itself.” Therefore, prep answers for each difficult question on your list. You will feel a lot more confident knowing you have a bank of readymade responses.
We hope this advice will help you overcome your public speaking nerves. We wish you the best of luck with your next public speaking engagement. For further inspiration, you can see a variety of talented speakers at our annual conferences, ContentEd and Utt