Overcoming Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Speaking in front of a group of people.  It has been ranked as a fear worse than even death itself, but public speaking is going to come up sooner or later as you rise through the ranks.  If you suddenly find that you’re going to have to make a presentation in the near future, here are some tips that may help.

Skip The BS
It’s really hard to get up in front of a group of people and give a pitch for something you don’t believe in. Tony Hsieh touched on this in his book Delivering Happiness.  Hsieh could rock and roll when the topic was something he was passionate about.  Otherwise, it just wasn’t that fun.  In my experience, it’s the same.  Whatever your topic, find your passion within it, and exploit it to make the presentation more personal for you.

Prepare
Some people can get up and go off the cuff at the drop of a hat.  Most of us can’t, so we need to follow the Steve Jobs model of prepare, prepare, and prepare some more.  Jobs made it look so easy, but he was a disciplined speaker who prepared and rehearsed until it was perfect.  You need to do the same.  Whether you’re using PowerPoint or Keynote, or will be in front with no visuals,  sketch out what you’re going to say and then keep refining it until you start to feel some cohesion to your message.

Practice
Okay, so now we’ve learned enough from Jobs to know that you need to rehearse.  If you have friends and family to suffer through this, great; just have them hold their suggestions (and applause) until you’ve finished.  If you don’t have a ready test audience, you can use a video camera.  Rehearsing in this way allows you to do a number of things.

  • It allows you to, based on suggestions from your guinea pigs, continue to refine the presentation;
  • You’ll know exactly how long the presentation takes, which allows you to tweak your performance and figure out when to add/cut material;
  • You’ll gain “muscle memory.” It’s just like singing along to a song you like.  When the song comes on, your body just does it without thinking about it.  If you practice your presentation enough, it will become part of you.  You’ll have the material internalized, and your body will just do it, keeping you in the moment

Get ‘er Done
Now that all of your preparation is over, it’s time to just do it. Maybe you’ll have some stage fright right before you get up there, but that’s pretty normal. Johnny Carson, a man that spent 30 years giving a monologue every night, admitted that he got the butterflies every time. I get nervous every time too, but I think you’ll find that once you get going, you lose all track and it happens just as you’ve rehearsed it. If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it, just keep going. Stuff happens, and sooner or later it will happen to you.  Just keep going and recover. Often, you’re the only one that knows you made a mistake anyhow.

Those few key things are what’s worked for me so far.  There are tons of books out there on the process, and I’ve heard great things about Scot Berkun’s book.  I also know a lot of people that swear by Toastmasters.

Best of luck future keynoters, and if others would like to share their experiences, hit us in the comments below.

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