It’s Time to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

Whether you’re presenting in a team meeting or pitching your business to a room full of Sharks, it’s normal to be nervous when speaking in public.

Jerry Seinfeld tells a hilarious joke that references how so many of us are terrified of public speaking that we would rather be in the casket at a funeral, versus delivering the eulogy. That may be taking it too far… and he tells it better than me, but you get the point. You can’t live in fear of public speaking forever – we are all going to have to speak in front of an audience at one point or another in our professional lives.

I’ve done my fair share of speaking in front of large audiences and while I wasn’t always good – and yes I still have a lot to learn – I wanted to share my four secrets to mastering the art of public speaking…

Know Your Purpose

Many people struggle with this: what is the point of the presentation? Why am I speaking today? Is it to inform the audience of a new development, is it a business update or is it more motivational?

Purpose is important to establish early on because it will determine the flow and structure of your presentation. Do this, and you can address questions like: What is the message I want my audience to take away? What can they learn from the story I’m telling?

Know the People

Ask yourself: Who is your audience? You have to know who you’re speaking to in order to give a great presentation. By knowing your audience and identifying what stakeholder role they play (decision maker, influencer etc), not only can you better understand what they expect from you but you’ll also know the best way to deliver this message. After all – would you present the same motivational speech in front of the National Honors Society as you would to a room full of senior executives?  Would you position the quarterly numbers the same way to the CEO as you would to a room of your direct reports?

Do your research beforehand – speak to the organizer of the event to get an idea of the level of knowledge the audience has on your topic. Find out the audience’s expectations, and really narrow down who they are.   You have to put yourself in their shoes and identify what the audience wants to get out of the presentation in order to be successful.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare !

The most important thing you can do to prepare for a presentation is practice! Whether it’s on your own or in front of someone else, it’s important that you are comfortable and confident with the content.

But preparation isn’t just about knowing your content, it’s also about knowing the room you’ll be presenting in. From a tech perspective you should know if need to have a slide deck or if it’s a panel. Who is bringing the AV equipment? Have we tested it (don’t even get me started on faulty AV!) Does the organizer need to have your slides before hand or can you provide them on site? How long do you have? Not timing yourself and running over (or being too quick) is just as bad as forgetting your content. You’ve got to be diligent in your preparedness to ensure the message is effectively delivered.

Show Your Personality

Just be yourself! You need to command your audience’s attention and you can’t do that if you too busy trying to be something you’re not. Trust me – your audience will figure it out if that’s the case. Find a balance between being captivating and informative.

By being yourself, you can connect with your audience on a personal level, show them that you’ve faced similar (if not the same) challenges as they have, and share how you’ve overcome them.

For those of you who struggle with nerves when public speaking I recommend practicing with a focal point. It’s something that centers you, and brings you back to focus. For example – you can pick a sign on the back wall of the room, or an accessory that you bring with you (a notebook, a pen – anything). By focusing on that object, you associate it with your breath, ideally calming your nerves and letting the other thoughts and doubts in your mind escape. No one knows about the focal point but you use it as a secret weapon to feel more in control of the situation.

At the end of the day, you can’t avoid public speaking. Practice and be confident in your knowledge and abilities ! The more you work on a skill, the better you become. And trust me, public speaking is one skill you’ll benefit from having in your professional and personal life.

To Your Success,