Public speaking is ranked as one of people’s top fears – right next to spiders and death. Just the thought of an upcoming presentation can send people into sweating and shallow breathing. But it’s not that terribly frightening, and a little work and preparation can go a long way in having a good public speaking experience.
Here are basic tips to get you on your way to smooth presentations.
Basic Public Speaking Tips
- Do a timed run-through. The amount of material that you have may be less or more than you need. A good run through will see how much you need to add or take away. Plus, you’ll find out where all of the “kinks” are in your presentation.
- Go over (and over) the intro. You don’t have to have an entire speech memorized – in fact, you shouldn’t. But you should have the beginning down so well that you could say it in your sleep. Why? Because that’s when you’ll be the most nervous. Your body will still be in “fight or flight” mode. A good beginning will help lessen your nerves.
- Memorize “triggers”. Instead of memorizing entire sentences, memorize the next key topic, or “trigger”. And then practice the story or lesson that is attached to it. For instance, I would simply memorize the term “cat lady” in my notes. Then I would practice telling the story of how an entire group of friends called me the crazy cat lady for a year….and hurt my self esteem terribly 😉 (keep in mind, I’ve never owned a cat!) This method makes a presentation much smoother.
- Use clock or timer. If I don’t have a clock I can easily view in the room, then I bring one. I have brought my iPhone with me and used the timer function. It’s respectful of time limits, and it helps pace yourself.
- Know how to work your mic. If you’re wearing a wireless mic, know how to turn it on when walking onstage and how to mute it when, say, going to the restroom. (I know some sound people will control this – if so, make sure it’s muted). Enough said.
- Practice transitions and endings. Practice what you will say between topics/stories. That’s usually what trips people up. Also, go over your ending several times. What people remember most is the beginning and end of a talk.
- Have a half-way point in your notes. Chances are, when you get up to speak, you will either talk more quickly or slowly than you did in practice. This could be because of nerves, audience interaction, etc. Have a point in your notes where you should be about halfway through your time limit. When you get to that point, you will know if you should speed up or slow down. This prevents the dreaded “I have a minute left, so let’s tell them a bajillionty things at once.”
- On a related note, don’t ask for more time from the stage. We’ve all probably done it once, but let’s not do it again.
Tips for Dealing with Nerves
First of all, I must say that you’re supposed to be nervous. It would be weird if you weren’t. So let’s just all quit being afraid of being afraid. Look at the nerves as a way to help you. It speeds up your heart rate, helps you think quickly, and you have enough adrenaline to rescue a bus full of people if they ever make a Speed 4 movie. The key is to work with the nerves. Here’s how.
- Embrace the nerves. Okay, not literally. That would be weird. But I want you to actually say to yourself, “Hey, this is good. I’m getting nervous. That means I care about what I’m doing. I’ll be able to think quickly and focus when I get on stage.“
- Do a “Superman” pose. While backstage, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands on your hips and stand like Superman. It increases testosterone by 20%. Plus, it will probably make you giggle.
- Take a deep breath. Count to ten while breathing in and then out. This helps when you’ve maxed out anxiety levels.
- Watch caffeine intake. Too much coffee and too little food and sleep can make for a shaky presentation and make you feel more nervous (See: that time I almost passed out onstage because of a quadruple frappuccino something or other).
- Keep things in perspective. The worst that can happen? You have a good story to tell later. Trust me, I’ve had it all happen. I’ve said stupid things, I’ve almost fallen into a baptismal – life goes on. But you know what people care about? Whether or not you care about them. Care about people and that’s what they will remember.
- Smile when you walk on stage. It helps you relax. It helps the audience relax. It’s all good – life does not hinge on this one presentation.
Tips for Powerpoint
Adding Powerpoint to your presentation? Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Don’t tell a story on the slides. Give a key point or phrase, then you tell the story. My max is a few bullet points per slide and a few words per bullet point.
- Give a copy of your presentation to the audio/visual person. If someone else is running your slides, have a copy of the slides for them. Go over how they will know to transition the slides. (On a side note, I now travel with a bluetooth mouse and use that from the stage).
- Have a backup. Always have at least two or three ways to access your material. For instance, I have a presentation on my computer, on a flash drive, and uploaded on dropbox.
- Watch for custom fonts. They might not be installed on the audio/visual computer. Either turn them into images (“rasterize” them) or go through the trouble of installing them on the new computer. Or just keep it simple and use common fonts.
- Do a test-run on the presenting computer. Make sure everything looks right, the sound is working, and any videos will play.
The Crazy Tips No One Tells You
Okay, I had to throw this in. It’s the stuff that matters….that no one wants to tell you. But I’m sacrificing my pride for you. You’re welcome.
- Wear comfortable underwear. Think it’s not important? Try getting ten minutes into an hour presentation and only being able to think about your underwear. Yep.
- On that note, wear underwear. On a personal note, I’ve actually been onstage speaking and had my pants rip up the back. I guess I got a little carried away on an illustration and “drop it like it’s hot” move. I and the entire audience were very thankful for my undies.
- Test before talking. Sometimes the sound person will either forget to turn on your mic or forget to mute it after you speak. (Or they’re practical jokers!) If I have to keep the mic pack on after I walk off stage, I make a “clicking” sound into it to make sure it’s off. This prevents an infamous “OMG I can’t believe my ex is in the audience!” and them hearing it. Preferably, just don’t talk again until your mic pack is off.
- Put new batteries in your mic or wireless mouse. Every. Single. Time. There’s nothing worse than being onstage and everything just stopping. That’s a cold sweat moment.
- Eat protein the morning of your presentation. It gives you a consistent stream of energy throughout the day. I pack a Payday candy bar to snack on.
- Do a yoga stretch test. Similar to the underwear tip. You need to be able to move comfortably without wondering if you’re flashing the audience. Also, ladies, wear shoes you can move around in. They can still be sexy shoes, but they need to stay on your feet. Falling on stairs isn’t sexy unless you’re Jennifer Lawrence.
- Clothing bonus tip: Dress in or bring layers in case the building is very hot or cold.
- Clothing bonus tip: Wear things that don’t show sweat. You’re going to sweat. The audience doesn’t have to know that.
- Bring an emergency kit. I try to pack breath mints, toothbrush, safety pins, kleenex, tylenol, and a bottle of water. (Girls can add every type of makeup and hair product imaginable to this list 😉
That’s what I have so far. But really, the main thing to remember is that the only thing that truly helps you be a better public speaker is to speak in public. Over and over. Start where you are and quit beating yourself up for going through a learning process. You can do it! As they say in Ireland, “You’ll be grand!” 😀
What tips do you have to add to the list?