Hello, my aspiring professional speakers! If you’re like most people, then you loathe the idea of doing any public speaking at all. Playing music is one thing, because you can hide behind your drum set or use your guitar as a weapon in case your unappreciative audience decides to rush the stage – but there’s really nothing to protect you from a few hundred withering stares when all you have between you and your audience is nothing at all. There’s a reason public speaking scares people, and I think it’s fine if you’re a little nervous.
But as the root of most fear is ignorance, most of your fear of public speaking can be overcome. I assume you’re only reading this because you anticipate the unfortunate yet unavoidable need to speak publicly at some point in the future. Well, here are four ways to deal with it better than you have in the past.
Appreciate the Fact That Your Audience Isn’t Actually Planning to Kill You
I’ve delivered thousands of presentations at this point. I’ve watched others delivered thousands more. And I have yet to see an audience rise up in communal rage and dismember the person they’ve been forced to listen to. I suppose it could still happen, but you’ll do much better to believe me when I say that your audience is perfectly happy to listen to what you are going to say – and if they’re not, they’re not going to tell you. They’ll just quietly ignore you the way that all of us do when we’re bored. Is that ideal? No. But it’s certainly nothing to be afraid of.
Practice What You’re Going to Say Out Loud
I will repeat that I’ve delivered thousands of presentations only to reinforce this point: every time I have to say something I’ve never said before – repeat, every single time – I practice it out loud to myself when nobody’s around. Every time I think I can get away with “winging it” I end up convincing myself that I’m about to screw up royally, and so I end up talking to myself whether I want to or not. This is the only way you’ll be able to convince yourself that the words you want to say are going to come out of your mouth the way you want them to.
Remember That Your Audience Has No Idea What You’re Going To Say
This is important, because it basically means that it’s impossible to screw up. You might know that you’ve screwed up, but nobody else will. Unless you tell them, of course, which is what, “Oops…um…wow, this is harder than I thought it would be…um…” is going to do. So just keep talking. If you get lost, you’ll eventually return to the main thread of your talk, and as long as you don’t stand there like a deer in headlights for 5 minutes then nobody will know that you weren’t sure what you were talking about. This one’s HUGE.
Why? Because the alternative is to sound bored, and nobody wants to listen to a boring person talk. Personally, I jump up and down a few minutes before I go on stage in order to get my blood pumping. I look like a moron, but it accomplishes what I need it to. If you don’t figure out some way to sound like you’re interested in what you’re saying, then you’ll come off sounding like you’re rehearsing in your basement. If that’s your goal, it will be even easier to achieve if you wander aimlessly across the stage and never look any of your audience members in the eye.
I know this is a difficult thing for a lot of people, so I hope you find that helpful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to give a talk in about three hours. I think I’ll stand with my back to everybody this time. Or maybe I’ll see if I can break into a flop sweat. So many options…