Like it or not, at some point in your career you probably will have to some public speaking. Regardless of profession, speaking in front of an audience is now pretty much required. Gone are the days of quietly sitting behind a desk and hoping your hard work gets rewarded. In today’s world you have to stand out, and that usually involves standing up in front of a live audience.
Despite the fact that it's a requirement for most companies, people still fear public speaking immensely. In fact, in nearly all surveys, respondents say they fear it more than death itself. But with some good preparation and a few tips and tricks, anyone can survive public speaking. Here are five ways to help you polish your public speaking skills and help calm the anxiety:
- Be prepared: Whenever presenting in front of an audience the cardinal rule is to know what you are talking about (if only politicians took this advice). Research your topic well and prepare your talking points accordingly. The more you feel prepared about the material, the less nervous you will be. Never include information you are not comfortable with or can’t back up with examples—the audience will see right through the shallowness and you will be less confident. Successful people aren’t lucky, they prepare.
- Know your audience: Now that you have your talking points nailed, make sure you are presenting the information in a way that the audience will understand. Your information needs to align with what the audience is expecting. Before presenting, get as much information about the audience as possible. What you would present and how you would present in front of your board of directors is different than what you would pitch a customer. Speaking in front of a few hundred or even thousands of your industry peers is different than a small focus group of customers. The point is, your job is to leave the audience with a better understanding or education, and you can only do that if you know who they are and what they are expecting.
- Be interactive: The worst speakers read from a script and drone on without any audience participation. Remember, the more interactive you are, the more responsive the audience will be. Ask questions throughout your talk. Try to survey the audience to get a sense of what they are thinking. Use talking points but always insert anecdotes when appropriate. Getting personal with the audience and engaging them will make every presentation more worthwhile and valuable.
- Always be ready to wing it: While being prepared is top priority, things do go wrong. People run late. Computers crash. PowerPoints fail. Sound systems break. Any one of these mishaps can throw off even the most prepared and experienced presenter. However, if you know your material and know your audience, you'll find a way. Always have handouts as backups and never fully rely on technology. Make sure a whiteboard is available if the projector goes down. There are smart ways to get around unforeseen problems. The trick is to stay calm and carry on. The more you relax, the more your audience will.
- Have perspective: The final strategy to be more comfortable in public speaking situations is to always keep perspective. Most presentations or speaking engagements last 15 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind, in one hour it will all be over, for good or bad. One hour in the grand scheme of a day, a week, a month and a year is nothing. It is like pulling a bandage off—it goes quicker and ends up being less painful than you think.
Public speaking is not easy. Most would avoid it if possible. However, is necessary for most professions. The more you can do to alleviate your anxieties, the better you will be at it.