The problem that many people have with public speaking is fear. Or dread. Or fear and dread. For many of my clients, these emotions are caused by a lack of confidence, or lack of preparation—because they don’t know how to prepare.
It can get better. While some people are natural public speakers, anyone can learn to be a more effective and confident speaker.
So—how can you rid yourselves of fear and dread? Preparation. Here are ideas for how to prepare your content, your delivery and yourself before presenting in public.
First, prepare your content. I will start with what not to do.
Don’t write your content and then read it to your audience. It is very difficult to sound natural when you are reading. Don’t write it and memorize it. It is very hard to sound natural when you have memorized your content—plus you have just given yourself the extra task of memorizing and the potential for additional stress.
My suggestion is to create talking points:
Begin by jotting down a few phrases—not full sentences.
Refine the talking points by saying them out loud.
This step is important for two reasons. First, you’ll get your mouth around the words. They’ll become part of your muscle memory and will feel natural coming out of your mouth.
The second reason is that you can listen to yourself and make refinements: “Oh, this is a more precise word to use here” (you are still not writing it).
Then turn talking points into bullet points:
Distill each talking point into one or two words.
That way if you need to look at your notes, it takes only a second to glance at the bullet point.
Then review the content in its entirety:
Does the presentation tell a story that has a beginning, middle and end?
Does each point logically flow from the previous point?
Once you are satisfied with the content, it is time to practice. Out loud. The way you are going to do it. You need to get the entire presentation into your muscle memory.
There’s that phrase again. Muscle memory is critical for effective public speaking.
One time a classical pianist came to me for help with her presentation skills. She told me, “Sometimes after I deliver a presentation, I realize that I left something out, and I say to myself, ‘I meant to say that. Why didn’t I say that?’”
I asked her, “How are you preparing?”
She said, “I run it through in my head when I’m in the shower.”
I told her, “The shower is a perfectly fine place for ideas to percolate, but you have to practice. Out loud. The way you are going to do it. You need to get your presentation into your muscle memory.”
This was a GRAMMY AWARD WINNING classical pianist, and I had to tell her to practice!
But when I used the words “muscle memory” she knew exactly what I was talking about.
Practice. Out loud. The way you are going to do it. If you are doing a virtual presentation, practice with your laptop. If you are going to be standing in front of an audience, stand while practicing.
Remember learning to drive a car? Ride a bicycle? Neither of those activities feel natural at first, but for most of us they become second nature with practice. You may not think you have the time to prepare in this way, but if you practice your presentation out loud at least once, you will increase your confidence.
Now that you have prepared your content and practiced, it is time to prepare yourself:
Before your presentation, take a couple of minutes of quiet time.
Take a couple of deep breaths.
It may seem that I am asking a lot here, but I promise three things:
- Your preparation will make you confident.
- Your preparation time will get shorter the more you do it.
- Your negative feelings about public speaking will be diminished, and maybe disappear.
You may never enjoy public speaking and that is okay, but you can diminish the feelings of fear and dread and become a more confident speaker. I take inspiration from Mark Twain, who wrote, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
Fear can be mastered. Dread can be mastered. Public speaking can be mastered.
Written by Guest Blogger Nancy Robillard || Public Speaking Coach
Nancy Robillard is a public speaking coach with 20+ years of experience in business and the arts. Nancy started her career as a professional theatre director and worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional theatre. In her work as a public speaking coach, she helps business leaders and their teams ensure their messages are clear and skillfully delivered by teaching theatrical techniques that powerfully engage audiences. She has prepared clients for TED talks, keynotes, sales presentations, panel discussions and offers individual as well as group coaching.