Public speaking may not be everyone’s cup of tea but sometimes in business, needs must. If you get nervous when you have to stand up in front of a group of people, whether it’s giving a small in-house presentation to your team or delivering an address at a major London conference venue, you may appreciate a few tips to overcome your nerves and help you perform better.
Preparation is everything
You may be familiar with the saying, often accredited to Benjamin Franklin, that ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. Or, if you’re from a marketing background, you may have come across the 7 Ps: ‘Proper planning and preparation prevents p*$$ poor performance.’
Either way, the message is clear. The more confident you are about the content and message of your contribution to the event as well as its general format, the more successful your appearance is going to be. This includes getting a firm handle on the following 3 key questions:
- What is the format of the event?
Are you a keynote speaker or part of a panel discussion? If it’s the former, how much time will you have? If the latter, find out who else is on the panel so you can research them. Will there be a pre-event rehearsal?
- Why are you there?
Is the purpose of your contribution to educate and inform on a particular issue? Are you there as a thought leader debating broader issues? Or is your role to entertain and engage?
- Who’s in the audience?
How many attendees are expected and who will they be – business leaders, journalists, the general public? It’s important to target your presentation to your audience’s level of understanding of the topic as well as their interests and concerns.
Hone your communication skills
To be blunt, it doesn’t matter how much event preparation you’ve done or good your ideas are, if you can’t communicate them to your audience effectively. There are many resources – both online and offline – to help you teach the crucial skills needed for confident public speaking.
Here are 3 key ingredients that will help you build confidence and improve your speaking skills:
- Focus on your breathing
Simple breathing exercises can help calm your nerves, make you relax and focus on the task ahead before you step onto the stage. Start by clearing your lungs and taking a deep in-breath. Hold it for 5 seconds, then exhale sharply and audibly by saying ‘ha’. Repeat this several times until you can feel some benefit.
- Speak nice and slowly
When you’re nervous and your heart is beating fast, it’s all too tempting to want to get your ‘performance’ over and done with as quickly as possible. However, talking too fast or stumbling over your words as you rush through your speech only has the effect of weakening your message. Slow right down, take a breath when you need to, and incorporate pauses into your delivery.
- Practise confident body language
Whether you’re standing behind a lectern, sitting down in a circle with others or have full command of the stage, acting as though you are confident in your skin will help you present with more authority. Don’t hide from the audience, slouch or cross your arms – these are defensive body language symptoms. Instead, keep your feet on the ground, back straight, shoulders relaxed and try a friendly smile.
Think and act like a winner
Even with the above tips and tricks, you may still feel uneasy about your public speaking performance. This is where a large dose of positive thinking can make all the difference. Do you realise that your own thoughts about your upcoming public speech or presentation can have a huge impact on the actual performance?
No doubt you’ve heard the mantra Fake it til you make it? Or as Shakespeare put it: ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here are 3 key strategies that are worth trying:
- Harness your nervous energy
If you can’t get rid of the pre-presentation nerves, use the energy to your advantage. Many presenters love to arrive on stage pumped and ready to go. Studies have shown that enthusiasm is a key factor to engage audiences who typically respond to a high energy speaker better than an eloquent one.
- Stop the self-sabotage
We all have our inner critic, but don’t let him/her take over and turn what promises to be a successful event into a negative reality. Self-criticism can reinforce the belief that you’ll do badly, even if you’re confident that you’re as well prepared as you could possibly be. Force yourself into ‘positive thinking mode’ and tell your negative voices to pipe down.
- Visualise success
This is a simple exercise you can do in the privacy of your home/hotel room. Close your eyes and imagine yourself on stage, delivering a hugely successful presentation. Really feel the applause and revel in the praise. This kind of positive reinforcement can give your confidence a real boost and help to reduce stage fright.
Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer and recent graduate. Annie has written for various online and print publications and specialises in business and career development.