The truth is, public speaking is pretty intimidating for people at all levels of experience, no matter what the situation may be. But for those completely new to the game, it can be utterly terrifying to stand up in front of a group of people.
The good news however is, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your fear, improve your confidence, and appear like you’ve been doing this for some time – even if it feels like a large hurdle to overcome. Whether you want to be more confident in front of teammates, internal stakeholders, or in front of a large audience at an event where you’re representing the company, the following tips should help you along the way. Remember, the ability to effectively communicate your ideas to potential customers, investors, colleagues or key decision makers will arguably be one of the most important skills you need to learn to be successful in business. If you incorporate these tips into the preparation and delivery of your talk, the whole experience will be a lot easier than you had anticipated.
1) KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
One of the most common mistakes made is to jump straight into preparing a presentation without first understanding who it will be delivered to.
If the presentation is for a small audience (e.g. 50 people) at a digital marketing meetup, you need to first get a grasp of what level of knowledge will be in the room. Are they digital marketing students? Senior-level decision makers who have 10+ years of experience? Maybe they’re a mix of SEO and PPC practitioners with on average 2-3 years experience? If you are unsure about who the audience is composed of, you need to speak to the organiser of the event or meeting if it happens to be taking place in your company. Choosing not to conduct this research will result in a presentation that doesn’t capture the attention of those who have set aside time to listen to you.
2) PREPARATION IS KEY
As you now have a fair idea of who will be in the room for your talk, it’s time to kick off preparations for your presentation. This may sound like common sense, but it’s important to play to your strengths when you start to think about what your talk will cover. You need to capitalise on your content experience, whether you’re new to public speaking or a seasoned veteran who has been doing it for a number of years. It’s really important to stick to topics you have comprehensive knowledge of as your audience will be able to tell if you know very little about something, or know the topic inside out from consuming information about it on a daily basis. An inexperienced speaker will find it more difficult to appear confident on stage if they can’t fall back on their knowledge of the area when the feeling of stress kicks in while speaking in front of a group of strangers.
A genuine passion for a subject is contagious. Always go the extra mile by doing extra bits of research to find and share the more inspiring data, facts and stories. Your audience will thank you for the extra effort you put into your presentation.
3) PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE.
After you’ve completed your presentation, it’s time to work on the delivery of it. For a lot of people, the thought of listening to their own voice is enough to turn them off practising their talk, but it’s utterly essential if you want to be a successful speaker. You should take the time to record a practice run of your talk so that you can identify the strengths and weaknesses in your voice and body language as you deliver the talk. Expensive equipment isn’t required here. Audio and video quality doesn’t matter too much for this, so if you have a smartphone and a simple tripod or stand, that should do the trick. From there, you can take notes on how your talk went in order to make much needed changes and improvements to how it’s delivered.
Tracking how quickly you progress through your slides will also help you identify whether or not some content needs to be cut or expanded upon. Both beginner and experienced level speakers make the mistake of not anticipating how nervousness can lead to a faster speech during a live presentation, so you should account for that in your preparations.
4) GET COMFORTABLE ON THE DAY
A pre-routine for your talks and presentations will help make you feel more comfortable on the day. It may include:
- Sound and microphone checks
- Presentation checks with the AV team (fonts, styling etc.)
- Checking the stage layout, countdown timer and comfort screens
- Ensuring you ‘re hydrated before you take to the stage
- Rehearsing your speech
- Meeting the other speakers
- Speaking to the MC to double check they have your details
- Exercising and deep breathing
It’s always a good idea to arrive early to allow time to speak to one or two people in the audience as they arrive – they will be your allies and supporters – it is easier to speak to friends than to strangers. In particular, you should get to know the front row of the audience by briefly chatting to people sat there before your talk is due to begin.
When it comes to delivering a confident presentation, making eye contact with members of your audience is one of best things you can do for yourself. If you step on stage with your eyes glued to the comfort screens or countdown timer, then not only will your audience notice just how nervous you are, but they’ll also find it difficult to connect with you and your message. Maintaining eye contact with your audience throughout your talk will enable them to better perceive, memorise, and make decisions about what you’re saying to them.
5) SLOW DOWN AND REMEMBER TO BREATHE
When you feel nervous – it’s not just your heartbeat that speeds up, but often it’s your words too as you speak at a much faster rate to hide how you feel. At that point, the audience is more forgiving and patient than you may realise as they want you to succeed up there, but the more you rush through your presentation, the more you turn them off your talk. In those situations, it’s best if you take a moment to pause after key points, take a deep breath, a sip of water, and then move onto the next point in your talk.
A 3-8 second pause just before important statements or just after a story can really bring the audience into the speech and help to show the audience that you’re a confident speaker. The more experienced speakers will often take a few seconds of silence to set the tone of their talk at the very beginning, rather than talk right away as they take to the stage. Silence can be powerful so don’t worry about pausing for too long before saying anything, your audience will definitely wait if you time your pauses accordingly.
Have you any other tips? Let us know by tweeting us — we’d love to hear them!