You ever have one of those dreams where you’re standing in front of a crowd and you’re supposed to talk but you’re naked and they’re naked and everyone is just…naked…Yeah, me neither. But! If the idea of having to say things in front of a large group of people is enough to make you break out in sweats, you’re not alone. The good news is there are some extremely easy strategies you can use to go from public speaking zero, to public speaking hero.
The biggest reason people choke during presentations is because of a lack of confidence. In particular, a lack of confidence in what you’re saying. The best solution to this is making sure you know your material back-to-back and inside out. When you’re standing in front of your colleagues or schoolmates or occult collective you need to remember that you’re the boss. But that whole boss thing only works if you are the fucking boss, which means you know your material better than anyone else in the room. If you don’t, you are setting yourself up to to fail miserably. So do your homework and get your head around that presentation like your life depends on it. As dorky and awkward as it is, the best way to prepare is to read your materials in front of a mirror. Don’t just read over your cue cards a couple of times and call it night, read it out loud over and over and over again until you’re CONFIDENT the information is drilled into your head. So, when you’re standing there and everyone is looking up expectantly at you and you’re shitting yourself, you should be able to fall back on your memorization and recite your material almost automatically. I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve seen technical issues at presentations and suddenly the speaker is left without slides or a presenter finds himself staring into a blank teleprompter. Show up ready for a blank teleprompter every time and you’ll kill it!
To be an okay public speaker, you just need to stand up and talk without tripping over yourself or crying. To be a great public speaker you got to put your whole body into it. Remember, more than half of communication is nonverbal. Practice your smile and try to make eye contact as much as possible. One good strategy is to break up the room in different parts and make direct eye contact with members of the audience in each of them througout your presentation.It’ll make it look like you’re looking at everyone in their area. People FUCKING love it when you use your hands and punctuate statements with an appropriate hand gesture. Just be careful not to take it too far, otherwise your excited gesticulating could murder your presidential campaign. Once again, while you’re practicing in front of the mirror, try different things and experiment till you find what works naturally with your material.
Psych Yourself Up
You know the worst part about getting a shot? It’s the anticipation. It’s the sitting in the doctor’s office for a half-hour trying to read a six-month old copy of National Geographic to keep from thinking about the needle that’s about to pierce your flesh. Getting ready to stand up and speak in front of a group of people is a lot like that. Except, instead of being afraid of a second of pinprick pain you’re afraid you’re going to look like an idiot and piss yourself. This sort of nervousness is a hard hurdle to get over and can really prevent you from starting strong. The solution is to develop strategies that’ll psych you up before a speech and get you in a frame of mind where you’ll be able to capture peoples’ attention right off the bat. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for everyone, maybe you need to take a long walk outside beforehand or you just need to blast some ‘80s power ballads and get pumped. Think about what relaxes you and integrate that into your preparations.
The best way to get truly comfortable speaking in front of other people is actually speaking in front of other people. One of the best places to practice in a safe and supportive environment is in a Toastmasters Club. If you don’t know what that is, Toastmasters is a non-profit organization with chapters all over the world where members get together to practice and teach public speaking by giving speeches. The Toastmasters have an entire curriculum to help you advance your public speaking from newbie to pro. If you’re serious about becoming a serious public speaker, you should seriously consider dropping into your local chapter and at least seeing if it’s right for you. If it isn’t, at least check out their Tips page for some great info on preparing everything from giving awards to eulogies.
A well delivered commencement address is a wonderful example of strong public speaking. Below you’ll find one of our favorites. It features the late Steve Jobs addressing the 2005 class of Stanford University. Please take a moment to watch and see for yourself what a masterful presentation looks like.