The majority of us have fears about public speaking, some, more irrational than others. But for many of us, public speaking is right up there with heights and creepy crawly things. I am NOT a professional speaker, although one day I could be (practice makes better), and I was beyond nervous before my TEDx talk. First and foremost, I must say, TEDxUniversityofNevada was an amazing event to be a part of, but it was an even more incredible event to learn from.
- Be prepared
Anytime you do a speaking engagement you need to prep for it. Some people believe they know the material well enough that they can just walk on stage, start talking, get all of their points across and knock it out of the park… In my experience, that’s not typically how it works. If you don’t prep for your presentation, then you’ll more than likely forget to hit some key points. You can know the material as well as you want, but if you don’t prep what you’re going to say it is easy to get side tracked and go off on a tangent. Especially, if your audience is active and engaged.
Go over your “script” with someone or multiple someones. My best friends and family were probably sick of hearing my TEDx talk; because I would make a tiny revision and want an opinion on the wording and the reaction they had to said wording and blah, blah, blah. But, input from others is good! It helps you take a step back and see potential weaknesses in your presentation. Sometimes we get so gung-ho about something that we are blinded by our own enthusiasm. Check your ego at the door when you ask for other people’s input on your speech. I had to remind myself while I was prepping, that the TEDx Team was, “just trying to make it (my TEDx talk) better” a few times. If you ask for help, you need to be receptive to criticisms; you need to be coachable.
So, there are two schools of thought on this. Some people believe in memorizing concepts, not content. While others, believe in memorizing the content – all of it. The preference is dependent upon how your noggin works. I did drama and theater from a young age, so memorization comes somewhat easily to me. Now, I’m not saying that memorizing your entire speech is easy or that it is the right way to go for you, but it was the right tactic for me with the TEDx platform. However, if I am doing a presentation and not a monologue, I usually have key notations I put on a Power Point, and then I memorize the details, or concepts, for those key points.
The negative about memorizing the ENTIRE speech, is that if you slip up on a word, it is very easy to blank out. And that is what we are all scared of, right? Getting up on stage and just going blank? That was my biggest fear about giving a TEDx talk – I pictured myself up on stage chugging along and then just flat lining… The idea of that is terrifying, and embarrassing. But, that is where your prep comes in and PRACTICE. Practice, practice, practice.
- Practice, practice, practice – it makes you BETTER
Some of you will clump practice and prep together, but I believe they are separate entities. Your prep is everything you put into your presentation before you start practicing. The time on your Power Point (side note, try to avoid death by Power Point), the time on the speech itself – the research, the numerous rewrites and edits, etc. Practicing your presentation is running through it. Over and over and over again. You practice in the car, on the way to work, in the shower, while you’re making coffee, at the gym – wherever you can. I honestly had the hardest time sleeping the last month before my TEDx talk, because I couldn’t shut my brain off! My presentation was on this never ending loop in my head.
Practicing in different places helps too because you’re not always going to have the “perfect speaking conditions” during a presentation. You want to train yourself to tune distractions out. That doesn’t mean that you get to ignore people come presentation time, as audience feedback and engagement is important. But, a distraction like someone talking during your presentation, shouldn’t be enough to throw you off your game.
- Connect with your audience – get personal
Research indicates that, “both initial impressions and previous interactions impact the amount of trust people place in (others)” (Chang, 2010). Which means, that interacting with some of these folks before your presentation is a great idea; because some of them will say, “Oh I met her earlier! She was the nicest lady” and then you’re set. That also means, that you need to dress appropriately, so you can make the right first impression. If you’re unsure of how to dress for the occasion, here’s a great tool for you via Kathleen Audet: Your Authentic Image. Kathleen was one of the sponsors for TEDxUniversityofNevada and her authentic image guide was truly a welcomed relief.
Anecdotes and personal stories are a great way to establish a connection, even a friendship-like trust with your audience. Being vulnerable and personal opens you up to them – it makes you more authentic. Get the listeners involved in what you’re talking about. Ask them questions, single some people out about a concept and ask for input. The average adult attention span is currently around 5 minutes, down from 12 minutes in 1998. What does this mean for you as a speaker? Do your thing and then tell a story – rope your audience back in. Whether you’re getting personal or telling a joke, do something to help break up your presentation. This will, in turn, help us all pay attention a little longer 🙂
- Get to your “big idea” earlier rather than later
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to public speaking – is drawing out the nightmare. You don’t need to make the experience any more painful for yourself than it already is. Don’t spend two hours on something you can say in 45 minutes. Cut out the fluff, and get to the big, juicy center that everyone wants to hear about.
Initially, I had a really hard time doing this with my TEDx talk. I wanted to get all philosophical and preachy and yada-yada. Clearly, that is not what I ended up doing. Because that’s not what was, or is, important. Eventually, I realized that the talk wasn’t for me – it was for everyone, the audience, the listeners, the people who have heard this message before and the people who hadn’t. I was providing people with valuable information that was relevant to their lives. At the risk of sounding preachy, remember this when you’re preparing for a speech – it isn’t about you. It’s about what you can add – to other people’s lives, to their businesses, to their mindsets… You are giving, not taking.
Let’s get uncomfortable and imagine some people in their underwear together ;-P
Let’s get REAL and connect to one another, by mastering public speaking.
Chang, Luke J., Bradley B. Doll, Mascha Van T Wout, Michael J. Frank, and Alan G. Sanfey. “Seeing Is Believing: Trustworthiness as a Dynamic Belief.” Cognitive Psychology 61.2 (2010): 87-105. Web.