Public speaking

Public speaking and why it affects us so much

Show me a person who doesn’t have some fear of public speaking or the act getting up in front of a crowd. We've all felt it at some point even if we are confident in our abilities.

While it gets easier the more you do it, as they say, “practice makes perfect”, getting nervous before getting up to speak in front of crowd affects the majority of the population. And yes, there’s even an official term for this fear—Glossophobia or “speech anxiety.”

But beyond the nerves, public speaking is an art—a skill set that you can continually improve on each time you stand up and deliver.  Even for the best public speakers, there’s always room for improvement.

So, without further ado, here’s my breakdown of the best tips and techniques for 1) getting over your fear of public speaking and 2) how to become a better speaker in general.

1. Know your stuff.

Before you get up there, you should feel overprepared. For someone who has a fear of public speaking, it’s better to feel like you did too much rather than too little. So, until you get more comfortable, go above and beyond what’s required and consider all and every angle. It’s better if you don’t end up covering everything you prepared, than to get asked to cover something you haven’t prepared.

2. Engage in repeat exposure.

If you are at all nervous about public speaking in all likelihood, you will try to avoid it like the plague. That means you probably don’t volunteer for public speaking opportunities or other projects that would require you using your presentation skills or getting in front of a crowd and talking. But the opposite is true if you truly want to conquer this speech anxiety, you’ve got to get going and have a go.

Start by committing to smaller forms of public appearances. Volunteer to present at the next school, college or work event and ask if you can present an idea you have rather than writing it up as an assignment or proposal. If all else fails, sign up for something like Toastmasters, where you’ll have a formal space to practice that’s low pressure.

3. Practice in front of others.

Yes, it’s awkward to mock present, but it’s going to help. Ask a friend or trusted colleague to listen to you run through your speech or presentation. It helps to give them some guidelines as to what you are looking at: i.e.  did your argument or presentation make sense? How was your body language? Did you speak too fast? Jot down notes and then run through it again.

The alternative to this is to video yourself … the same principle applies, set up your camera and video yourself doing your presentation. Review yourself but also ask a friend or colleagues for feedback. They will likely see different aspects of your presentation than what you see and hear.

4. Create a pre-event destressing routine.

Before you get on stage (or walk into the conference room), find a way to slow yourself down. That might be deep breathing, taking a walk around the block, or picturing where you’ll be after the meeting.

5. Consider the worst-case scenario.

Chances are, it’s not that bad. Thinking about what’s giving you the anxiety, i.e. what’s causing this fear, this is also the best way to take away its power. Are you afraid you’re going to get demoted or fired? Or that people will laugh? Close your eyes and imagine the worst-case scenario. You’ll be surprised by how exaggerated those thoughts have probably become. By taking a step back, you take away the power.

6. Find a friendly face.

Don’t focus just on the crowd. Instead, stick to focusing on your material. That said, if possible, it helps if you can connect with at least one person in your audience. Maybe it’s that colleague who helped you run through your presentation. It might also be a stranger in the front row who’s smiling and nodding a lot. This gives you someone to connect with on a one-to-one basis so that you’re not overwhelmed with looking too many places at once.

7. Slow it down.

You’re going to want to talk fast, and that will make you feel like you could slip up at any moment. That old advice about slowing down when presenting is a cliché for a reason. So, remember to slow down. And don’t forget to respect silences. If you appeal to your audience with a question, give them roughly four times as long as you’d expect to volunteer a response. A little quiet time in every presentation is OK. You want to give them chance and time to let all the information you’ve presented sink in.

Now you’ve practiced and it’s the day or the night before. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you feel good about the upcoming experience.

#Don’t rehearse your speech up to the last hour This is for the same reason everyone always said in college that you shouldn’t study your notes right before an exam, you’ll just get confused or flustered. If you’ve followed the previous guidelines, then you know you’re prepared and then some. So, on the morning of your presentation, give yourself a break.

#Get there at least 20 minutes early Some people say 10, but hey for me the earlier the better. This gives you time to get to know the set-up, make sure all the tech works (screen connection, mic, clicker etc.) run to the bathroom, check to make sure you don’t have anything in your teeth, grab a drink and feel calm, this should all be done in a reasonable time frame that’s not stressful. You don’t want to feel rushed.

#Mingle and meet some people Before you go on stage, mingle. Shake hands. Chat. Connect with some of the strangers who will be listening. Why? Because they won’t feel like strangers anymore, meaning you’ll feel a lot more comfortable as you talk to them.

#Have a plan B in place for all the technology Before you even get there, consider what could go wrong, such as a presentation not loading properly or the mic not working all of a sudden. Bring a flash drive as a backup to your computer. Prepare a joke about how you’ll “try to project from my diaphragm” if the mic fails, etc.

#Do something stupid Listen to a terrible power anthem in the car on the way over, yell mantras in the bathroom, shake out your arms and legs. All of this helps expend some of that nervous energy that’s building, plus it also means you’ll take yourself less seriously. So finally, let’s talk about how you can get better at public speaking. Getting better at public speaking really just requires practicing some tried and tested techniques. As you conquer your fear of public speaking, consider working on some of these elements as well. You’ll be presenting to the crowds in no time.

#Watch more public speakers People love TED Talks for a reason. Those speakers get it right. Before preparing a speech or presentation of your own, watch some talks that inspire you. Take notes about some of the behaviors and speech patterns they use. Do they tell jokes? Use their hands as they speak? Play with lyrical repetition in their speech patterns? There's no right or wrong answer, but you can learn a ton of different techniques by watching, listening, and jotting down what you observe. A book recommendation l will always give here is ……TED Talks, The official guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, Head of TED

#Decide and be clear upon what type of public speaking you’re doing Once you've started to better understand the patterns in speakers you admire, and before you start writing your speech or preparing your presentation, think about what type of public speaking you want to do. The general consensus is that there are four types of public speaking: informative, persuasive/motivational, demonstration or entertaining. Some people also list "impromptu" as a 5th type public speaking. But here is a quick outline of the most common types of public speaking for professional purposes. -Informative - If the goal is to introduce people to a new project you've worked on, your speech or presentation will probably fall into this category. This is a common type of public speaking for internal meetings—it's likely that you'll get asked to introduce your work to others and you'll want to make it as straightforward and accessible as possible. Think of this as a sort of professor's lecture. -Persuasive/motivational/inspiring - Hello, TED Talks. This is where you're trying to convince someone to buy into an idea, pitch, or request. If you work with clients a lot, you probably know this format well. You'll be presenting what you want someone to do, and you're convincing them they want to do it, too. -Demonstration - l'd actually almost argue that this is a type of informative public speaking. But in this case, though, you're physically showing people how a product works by demoing it right there. This is more common if you work in a sales team or something of the like. -Toast/Celebratory Speechmaking – This has the entertainment focus. Less common in professional environments though not unheard of, this type of public speaking is what you do when you're the maid of honor at your best friend's wedding. This is also occasionally referred to as "speaking to entertain." That said, the more you assume leadership roles within your company and career, the more likely it is that you'll want to be able to make a speech celebrating your team's wins.

#Always start with the end goal Work your way backwards. Before you sit down to prepare a speech or presentation, write down what you want to get out of it. Then work your way backward with these prompts … Why can't they afford to say no? What's the evidence I have that my idea is important/will work? How are these ideas unique? What's the problem I'm trying to solve? How do I explain why I'm here today to this group? Focus on a Problem-Solution Perspective Again, similar the questions above, one of the easiest ways to attract the attention of your audience is to call out a pain point or problem they're facing in their own work or lives. The goal is to demonstrate that 1) yes, they've got a problem 2) it’s no problem, you can solve it 3) here's how to solve it.

#Keep your language simple The best speeches and talks are straightforward and accessible. You want to keep your audience captivated, so making it difficult for them to understand by complicating what you're saying is a no-no. Don't use business or tech jargon. Don't worry about needing to use big words. Make sure what you discuss uses a step-by-step storyline that's easy to follow.

#Don’t give everything away in your presentation I’m sure you've heard this before, but if you're planning on using a slideshow or power-point in conjunction with your speech, don't put everything you say into the slides. The best public speakers use slideshows to help them illustrate their points but not make their points. If people have to squint to read your slideshow, it's probably not a good one. Keep the focus on what you're saying.

#Make it personal Tell a joke. Use illustrations from your own life. Tell stories from your childhood. It shows you can read the room and proves you're not just a robot reciting lines.

#Build empathy with your audience The most engaging speakers are the active ones who make us feel invested in what they're saying. One of the best ways of doing this is to appeal to the audiences' empathy. Try starting a sentence with "Imagine if..." or say something like "When you were growing up, you probably..." Empathy goes both ways. Try to put yourself in the listener's shoes and give them the presentation or speech they want or need while also appealing to their own understanding of you and the work you do. You'll see how quickly you get them on your side.

#Watch your time—and maybe aim to end five minutes early No one likes a long speech or talk. Bring a watch or set a timer on your phone so you can check where you're at in the process regularly without losing your train of thought. And no, it's not a bad idea to cut yourself off a little early. It's a pleasant surprise for most people who have spent their lives listening to pedantic public speakers who just go on and on and on and on... It also gives you and you audience a chance for a little Q&A time.