“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. The liars.”
Point 1: Having stage fright is OK!
In the past year or so, I have gone up on stage to speak in front of people close to a dozen times. Some in front of small, 50 people audience at a small company event, others with over 500 at a formal gala dinner. I cannot call myself a seasoned speaker yet, but I have had a lot more microphone time than most people. And although with each presentation I have accumulated experience and built my confidence, I am still afflicted with the same nerves each new time as I am about to go up onstage.
Before I went up on stage in front of a couple hundred people at my last pitch event, my co-workers gave me the thumbs up and said “Rui, you got this.” I immediately replied to them, “I am actually really nervous. It’s like my first time doing public speaking all over again!” My heart was racing, and my palms were sweaty. But here’s the thing: being nervous can be a good thing. How? Well, I was nervous not because I thought the audience was going to glare at me and eat me alive or other irrational fears, but because I held my presentation as an important mission, and wanted to make sure I could get my message across. As soon as I dragged my butterfly-filled gut onto stage, and greeted my audience “good evening,” I was ready to go.
“90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.”
– Somers White
Point 2: Put more efforts into preparation off-stage!
Now let us go back in time a little bit. The first step in giving a great presentation is of course preparation. As a general rule, take one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time. As is with writing a paper, start with an outline of your points. Make sure to include all the information that you will need to pass down to your audience. When organized into your script or slideshow, it should flow and transition effortlessly.
When speaking to an audience, you should never rely too heavily on written notes, but nor should you try to simply wing it. Both will end in disaster. Have a stack of postcards in your pocket – one for every five minutes you will be speaking – and shape your speech, highlighting the big emotional moments and your favourite cheap jokes. If you’re using a laptop to show a slideshow presentation on screen, you can have virtual postcards on your laptop screen as an alternative, so you don’t need to fuss over cards. No audience wants you to do badly. They all want to learn something new, they all want to be moved, and they all want to be entertained.
Now that you have all your speech prepped, practice actually speaking it! You will be most likely be on a timer, and you cannot be sure about the timing of your presentation until you actually try dictating it with a stopwatch. If you have the chance, have a colleague or friend listen to you as you speak. Keep in mind that most people talk faster when nervous on stage, so plan accordingly.
“Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”
― Stephen Keague, The Little Red Handbook of Public Speaking and Presenting
Here are the other 5 tips in bullet points:
Point 3: Know the audience
Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers, and this makes it much easier to engage with your audience, especially if you need to improvise part of your presentation.
Point 4: Relax
Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.” Deep breath. Pause. Begin. Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
Point 5: Pay attention to body language
Stand up straight, take deep breaths, look people in the eye, and smile. Prevent leaning on one leg by walking around and using gestures to engage the audience. This movement and energy will also come through in your voice, making it more active and passionate.
Point 6: Watch recordings of yourself
Whenever possible, record your presentations and speeches. You can improve your speaking skills dramatically by watching yourself later, and then working on improving in areas that didn’t go well. You will be surprised by the things you can pick up by simply watching yourself!
Point 7: Gain experience
Mainly, your speech should represent you — as an authority and as a person. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. Seek more opportunities to get onstage, and push yourself to get better and better.
Becoming a good public speaker can enhance your reputation, boost your self-confidence, and open up countless opportunities. I bid you to master these points to improve your business pitch/demo, emceeing, or even a toast at your best friend’s wedding.
Rock the stage!