Recently I have been putting together a presentation skills course; in doing so I have come across a wealth of quotations that really do tell you everything you need to know about public speaking. I thought it would be fun to bring my favourites together in one place to create an inspirational manual.
You are not alone
If you have a fear of public speaking, you are not alone. Surveys regularly show it to be most people’s number one fear. This quotation from Jerry Seinfeld sums it up. So if you do tremble at the thought of speaking in public – remember you are in the majority.
Even great speakers get nervous
Just like famous and experienced actors who still get stage-fright, great speakers will also feel the sensations of nervousness – it is a hard-wired neurological and physiological response to a potentially threatening situation. The difference is they probably call it something else – they have re-framed the sensations as “energy” or “excitement” or “the buzz”. They usually have such a positive relationship with these sensations that they worry that they will not be able to perform if they are not present!
So I would agree in part with Mark Twain – we all get nervous – but some of us call it something else!
Anxiety is a natural survival response
Our brain is hard-wired to keep us safe. Any perceived threat to our safety, security or status will trigger the fight or flight response. Blood is diverted away from our brain and other non-essential functions to our arms and legs (so that we can run or fight). This means we can’t think straight, our heart speeds up to get the blood pumping, our arms and legs get twitchy, our mouth gets dry as saliva production stops and we get sweaty palms as the body tries to cool itself. So these “symptoms” which we might associate with public speaking are in fact a completely normal response to any threat situation.
So the key is to reduce the perceived threat through planning and practising (mental rehearsal as well as physical practice). Also, get to know what is the first sign for you that you are going into the fight or flight response and then have a recovery strategy, whether by doing a breathing exercise, changing your posture or (if you know NLP) firing an anchor.
The danger time for most people is the beginning of any presentation – so practice your opening sentences out loud so that you can deliver them without thinking – this will give time for the stress to subside and before you know it you will be in your stride.
Planning – What is your outcome?
Planning is key to avoid delivering a rambling presentation with no real sense of purpose that just leaves your audience at best confused, or at worst switched off (possibly asleep!).
Be clear about the key points you need to get across – do not have too many or your audience will be overwhelmed and will not be able to recall them anyway.
Have a clear plan and a structure for your presentation – ideally one that will enable you to communicate your message to multiple learning styles.
Don’t forget the audience!
It is easy to become a little self-absorbed when preparing and delivering a presentation. If it is a subject you are interested in or passionate about it is easy to get carried away with yourself, forgetting that the audience might not be as interested at the outset. Give them a “what’s in it for me” so they have a reason to pay attention and get them engaged so that they can share your passion and take some of it away with them. NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) has the concept of metaprogrammes which are motivational patterns – understanding these will enable you to communicate with and influence your entire audience.
Managing the dance – self, content and audience
There are really only three steps to delivering a great presentation. The first is to manage yourself, have strategies to deal with nerves and practice, practice, practice. The second is to be clear about the content, what is the purpose of the session and how are you going to structure it to ensure you get your message across? Finally the audience, how can you communicate so that everyone hears the message and gets the learning, whatever their learning style?
Practice these steps and you’ll be a master before you know it.
And finally – DO IT!
You will not improve your public speaking unless you start to do it! Look for opportunities to practise the skills, start small with subjects you know about in “safe” environments – people you know, or people who are also developing their own skills. Learn from each presentation you did; ask yourself what you did well, and what you might do differently next time. Get honest feedback from your audience and don’t be surprised if they tell you you came across much more confidently and self-assured than you were feeling on the inside!
Remember, even the most accomplished public speakers had to start somewhere!
I know I said there were 6 – but couldn’t resist adding this one…
Learn more about Public Speaking
If you’d like to learn more, check out our Presentation and Training Skills Course here