Over the years I have done hundreds of speaking engagements ranging from school presentations to keynotes at high profile conferences. They can still be nerve wracking. There is no special pill to making public speaking, like everything you do need to put in the work, over time I have really learnt to love presenting.
- Prepare: tailor your preparation to the speaking you are doing. For any presentations define your audience, figure out your broad intention for the presentation/performance then figure out the 3 key messages that you want to get across. I like to script shorter presentations word-for-word, making sure they have a good structure, learn them by heart, then add the personality. This comes from my acting background and may not be right for all. For longer presentation or those with slides I might have bullet points for different sections. Know your subject matter. I am definitely the most nervous when I am not as confident with the subject matter. Actors use many vocal techniques that just allow them to get use to making sound with their voice and to develop the power and range of their vocal instrument, for very dedicated people this can be part of your preparation.
- Practice: I practice in different ways depending on the type of presentation I am giving. If it is something short like a pitch where I have to fit in everything in I script it and learn as described above. I always speak it out-loud in preparation, even if I am alone. If you can record yourself and listen back that will help you to get over that initial surprise when you first hear your voice in the presentation. Practicing in front of people will also help.
- Do it whenever you can and get comfortable with your own voice. As with everything if you do it you get better at it, as stated in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10 thousand hour rule (Malcolm demystifying the 10000 hour rule). You won’t need 10 thousand hours to reduce your nerves, but the more you do the more relaxed you will get. So take opportunities to speak in front of people whenever you can. I find that speaking to camera also helps, although you might find that it is a shock to the system when the
- Come back to your breath: Breathing is one of the most powerful tools for you to use both in preparation, when you are waiting and when you are on stage. I like the 4-7-8 technique, I find the hold part particularly useful. During the speech, be aware if you are speeding up, rushing, getting lost or even if your voice doesn’t sound like your own, take a breath.
- Be grateful for having a platform to speak: I have taken to including things that I am a bit nervous about in my morning gratitudes and affirmations. E.g. “I am so grateful for this opportunity to speak because I will get to connect with more people”. I then set affirmations such as: “I am clear in my message, today I will connect with other people, my message will help someone else”.
Bonus tip: Once you are prepared and practiced try to let go of any desired outcomes, e.g. if you are presenting to investors and you want money or customers and you want leads or contracts. In these cases a good presentation is a way to further the conversation so try to forget any major outcome and relieve the pressure. The more relaxed you are (as long as you are prepared) the better your presentation will be.
Some people have a more natural talent than others for speaking and some (like me) have been performing in front of audiences since they were 5 years old, if this isn’t you it is ok, the tips above are designed for those with little or no experience. If even with all these tips and some practice you are still struggling then try to think of other ways to spread your message and you might want to examine if there are other underlying challenges going on.
I believe that everyone has a message and your voice is a tool that allows that message to be heard. I hope these tips help you to get over your nerves and deliver a speech that will bring people along with you as you conquer your goals.