I’ll never forget the first public talk I ever gave. It was right after I’d started my personal training business. Someone said I should do public speaking to promote myself, and even though the idea terrified me, I decided to give it a try.
I scripted out a 45 minute presentation, and memorized the entire thing. On the day, a grand total of 13 people showed up. About 10 minutes into it, there’s a guy right in front row who starts dozing off. But I got through it. I can’t imagine it was a great talk, but the feedback was very positive.
A couple of month later, I did another one, and then another one, and pretty soon it turned out that it was something I have a talent for, and really enjoy doing.
Here are a few suggestions to help you become a more confident speaker:
(1) Don’t memorize. I don’t recommend you memorize your speech like I did that first time. Trying to remember lines can make you nervous and distract you from what you should be focused on, which is communicating your ideas. However, I suggest you script and practice key parts like your intro, or any essential stories. The intro in particular should be well planned, because your nerves will be the highest at the beginning. Once you get past the first 5-10 minutes or so, you’ll start to settle in.
(2) Embrace your feelings. Don’t try to fake being confident if you’re not. It takes too much energy, and feels less authentic. Remember, your audience is rooting for you to do well. If you’re nervous, acknowledge it. Fear and excitement are made of the same stuff. So call it excitement. For me, when I feel those butterflies, I know I’m ready. It energizes me. It raises my awareness, so I’m sharper. So if you’re nervous, embrace the feeling. Tell yourself, “perfect…that means I’m ready”.
(3) Honor your topic. Once upon a time I’d organized a talk and registration was very low. I was debating cancelling it. So I went for a walk to clear my head, and when I came home, I picked a book from the shelf and opened it to a random page. On that page was this line,
“A great speaker is someone with knowledge of a topic, and a burning desire to share it.”
I thought, I have so much knowledge on this topic, and I want to share it. So I went ahead.
Since then, I make it a point to remind myself before each talk how excited I am about what I have to say. Nerves come partly from focusing on the wrong thing: yourself. Give your topic center stage. Remember that you have valuable information to give. Focus on that.
(4) Embody the experience. On a recent episode of the voice, someone asked Pharrell Williams what he thinks about right before going on stage, and he said without hesitation, “how much fun I’m gonna have.” As a general rule, if you’re not having fun, the audience isn’t either! Audiences love to feel like the speaker is enjoying him or herself. Your goal should be to embody whatever experience you want to convey. If you want to inspire, YOU should be inspired! If you want them to have fun, you should be having fun.
(5) Learn by DOING. There aren’t short cuts. If you want to be good, let alone great at speaking, you have to take every opportunity you can to SPEAK. Joining a group like Toastmasters is good, mostly because it gets you up in front of people each week.
You learn through doing.
Finally, I’d just say, do your best to prepare, but when it’s your time to take to the front of the room, dismiss any care you might have about the outcome. Have fun! If you do that, and you learn from every experience, it won’t be long before you are a much more confident speaker.