Rather be in the coffin than speak publicly?
There is a Seinfeld TV episode where he states that most people hate public speaking – that in terms of fears, public speaking surpasses death. He goes on to surmise that if you are at a funeral, you would rather be the one in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy.
Speaking in public is not easy, whether that is giving a toast at a formal occasion or presenting at a staff meeting. Most of us would rather not, and if we could pawn off the task, truth is, we just might. But no one is stepping in for us, and if you are reading this blog, I’m guessing you want to be ready to take on the job.
You can build your confidence and become more at ease. Here are a few ideas to help you prepare for your next presentation or public speaking engagement.
1. Recognize Your Fear
It’s ok to be afraid – we are not alone. Most people, myself included, have had times where we thought, if only. If only we had not said yes; if only someone else would step up and volunteer, perhaps an avatar or salvation by sudden illness. We should recognize that our apprehensions and fears are not abnormal. In fact, if we are overly calm or unconcerned we might just be lacking personal investment in the presentation.
2. Own the Task
This is the task we have been given or accepted. Think of it like any other job. We want to do it well, we are not going to ditch the responsibility, so we need to recognize that the quality of the presentation is our responsibility. We should take pride in what we are creating, not just focus on the finished product, but invest in the process. The preparation is our own private professional development, and we want to do it thoroughly and well.
3. Be Prepared
Know the topic and be as ready as possible. We don’t always have time to spend hours preparing, but we should use what time we have wisely. My daughter was advised in preparation for a music audition that it’s better to be overly prepared and nervous rather than under-prepared and confident. This is wise advice not only for music auditions. Give the proper amount of time to gather information; do the background reading; create a PowerPoint presentation or gather other resources to be used as a supplement to the presentation.
4. Remember No One Wants You to Fail
People are not looking at us hoping we will fall apart or forget what to say. Most people will empathize and be sending us good vibes, and they are probably grateful it’s us giving the presentation and not them. Besides, they have no idea what we are going to say – if we mess up, they most likely won’t even notice.
5. Just Start
Many actors, athletes and musicians have terrible performance nerves. Many say they simply won’t let their nerves stop them from doing what they love to do. They know they just need to begin and it will be okay. They have done their homework; they are ready. These crazy things called nerves can keep us prisoner. I’ve heard it’s helpful to eat a banana. I ate 3 in a row once, and still was nervous. Take a deep breath and begin. More often than not, once we start, the rest is easier.
6. Trust Yourself
We are our own worst critics. We second guess our ability, we second guess our knowledge and we second guess our mind’s capability to work in the heat of the moment. That awful thought, “What if my mind goes blank?” can cripple us. And our mind just might go blank – so what? It happens to the best of us. If it does, take a minute. Regroup and continue. Trust me, or more importantly, trust yourself: your thought and voice will return. If and when you need to take a moment to look at your notes, or gather your thoughts, do. No one will mind. Refer to #4.
7. Love Your Audience
One of my colleagues passed this tidbit my way and it has changed how I approach audiences. We care about not just the information we are delivering; we care about the people who are hearing it. Our audience is filled with people who, just like us, need validation. They have given their time to hear what we are offering. They appreciate our eye contact, our smile and our interest in ensuring they understand what we have offered. We don’t need to do a song and dance, but we should make the content as enjoyable as we can. We need to remember it’s not all about us.
8. Learn From Mistakes
Sometimes a presentation does not go as planned, and there are sure to be a few mishaps if we present often. Ask yourself, “What could I do differently next time?” “What happened there?” “What part of what didn’t go so well am I responsible for?” Or ask a friend or trusted colleague to give you feedback. If you’re brave enough, video record yourself; it’s a great learning tool.
9. Learn From Success
When your presentation is over, ask yourself, “What went well?” “What do I want to repeat?” Don’t forget to celebrate your successes. Tell your family, call a friend or tell a co-worker how good you feel about the presentation. Validate yourself. Thank yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back – you did it.
10. Take Pride
Life and work is a learning process. If we got up and gave it a go, we have much to be proud of. Some people never try because they can’t live with the thought that they might fail. If we stood up and made the presentation, it might not have been perfect, but we did our best. We didn’t call on a colleague, conjure up an avatar or resort to sudden illness, and that’s something to be proud of.
It really is better to give the eulogy than be the one in the coffin! These tips can lower your anxiety and build confidence in your ability to speak publicly.
A Practical Checklist
- Know what you want to say.
- Use notes or some kind of reference.
- Speak at a normal speed.
- Speak in a conversational tone.
- Smile and make eye contact with your audience.
- Walk around or at least allow your eyes to move around the room.
- Tell a personal story to illustrate key points.
- Have a laugh or two together.
- Talk to your audience, not at them.
- Keep to your allotted time.
- Be yourself.
Any tips to add to the list? We’d love to hear from you.