When scouring the internet it is easy to come across the same answers to the same questions, especially when it comes to public speaking. It is also easy to leave behind hours of research to still feel like there are some key things that you are missing from the big picture. So let’s dig a little deeper and see if we can shed some light on the internet’s top recommendations for public speaking, and what they might not be telling you.
Practice Makes or Breaks
We have all been told since we were young that ‘practice makes perfect’, but over time we become numb to these words and forget their real value. When it comes to public speaking, practice can actually be the thing to make or break you once you hit that stage.
One of the main tactics for overcoming fear of public speaking is to practice, which is not the same thing as memorizing. When you speak to an audience you are involving all of you- your body, your voice, and facial expressions- into the presenting of the message that you are trying to share. A successful presentation is more than just words, so make sure you put in the necessary time to practice and prepare.
Mental Talk Matters
One of the greatest pitfalls to being a successful public speaker is our own negative mental talk. Do you find yourself having a lot of negative thoughts due to fear or self doubt? Does it feel like these negative thoughts flood your mind despite yourself? If so, there are methods that you can use to take control of these thoughts and turn them around to benefit you instead.
It’s ok that these thoughts occur, it is normal to feel nervous or worse, but stopping to take control of your thoughts in the moment will help significantly. When you catch yourself thinking with more focus on doubts or fears simply tell yourself ‘no’ and find a positive thought to replace it. Replacing the negative thought with a positive one is key. For example, you can turn “I’m going to choke out there” into “I can do this”. Focusing on words like ‘can’ and ‘am’ are powerful in also changing your emotions.
Visualization is Magic
Many studies have been conducted over the years involving the impact that visualization has on sports athletes and performers. Those who did specific visualizations as a part of their practice routines were 13-20% more successful on their big day than those who didn’t. When scientists observed athletes doing their visualization exercises they discovered that there was a physical response to what the athletes were seeing and doing in their minds.
When it comes to public speaking, visualization helps you make a clear picture of what you want to happen, what you intend to do, say, how you’ll move, even down to vocal projection. Go as far as seeing the audience loving your speech. See the applause from your audience at the end. And most importantly, feel it! Let it come alive in your mind, let yourself feel the emotions that you want to feel, let it flood and overwhelm your senses. This simple mental exercise can give your confidence a major boost.
Slow & Calm Wins the Stage
That old childhood story of the Tortoise and the Hare really nails it on the head. Except in the case of public speaking, you may find yourself actually in a race with yourself to get to the finish line, or in this case, the end of the speech. Especially when we are nervous we may unintentionally speed ourselves up, in part due to fear and also from an inherent desire to get off the stage as soon as possible. Taking control of your pace and remaining calm will greatly help you from stumbling over yourself.
It also helps to plan your presentation out ahead of time so that you are not pushing too much information too closely together. Plan out points for humor, dramatic pause, or whatever other techniques that you want to apply to win your audience.
Just Get Started
You will be surprised to experience the eye-of-the-storm kind of calm when you get on stage. The worst of the fear occurs before you are ever even in front of anyone. The idea of the people is often much more terrifying than the reality of the people. Before we are in front of them, in our minds, they could be anyone. They could hate us, they could throw things at us, or boo, and really that fear-talk can go on without end. But once you are out there and actually get started, you will feel a lot of the fear wash away.
Getting started is the hardest part, but once you’re out there you will flow more easily into giving your presentation than you first think. Especially if you follow the other tips in this article with practice, preparation, planning, and visualization. Once your feet hit the stage you’ll find yourself out there with more confidence than you may have expected.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, not being early is a common mistake. While people often arrive on time, they are still not arriving with enough time. There is a lot to do, usually, before you are just ready to walk right up on the stage. Sometimes there are people you need to talk to, checks you need to make, and even a last few minutes to go over your material. If you don’t arrive with enough time to do these things you are more likely to rush everything, or worse, miss something.
Also, once you are in a rushed state, or feel hurried about getting on-stage, there is more of a chance of you rushing your presentation as well. If you let yourself enter your presentation with that hurried kind of panic that comes with running behind, even all of your practice and preparation can mean little. And if you do find yourself in a pinch for time, or if you catch yourself going too fast before you’ve even began, take a few minutes and do a quick breathing exercise to get yourself back into a calm and controlled space.
Something that may not seem so important can actually make a bigger impact on your presentation than you may realize. Fear and nervousness can make us tense up both physically and mentally. And while that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it is actually something that your audience can pick up on when you are in the spotlight. Being stiff will affect how confidently you move, sound, and posture yourself.
To avoid stage stiffness do a few stretches a few minutes before you start. It doesn’t have to be excessive, just enough to help you work out the kinks that pre-show stress can cause. Add a few breathing exercises into the mix as well and you’re good to go!
That means breath! So you came early, you prepared, planned, and practiced, did your visualization exercises and now it’s time to walk up the steps to take the stage. What could go wrong? Well… there is still one more thing that could throw you off balance; your breathing. When you are nervous you are more likely to breathe in fast, short breathes which can make you feel like a fish out of water. Unless you want to feel like you are suffocating on the stage you need to pay attention to your breathing and consciously avoid letting it get the best of you.
Taking a few minutes before your presentation to breath can be helpful. Starting off on the right foot will make the rest of the presentation go much smoother for you. Just make sure to keep breathing once you start! It’s also pretty easy to get into your presentation and end up winded while still on stage.
Bring it Home!
Keep in mind that confidence starts with a belief in your abilities. Practice is what helps you become more familiar with your material, visualization prepares both your mind and body, and preparation makes you ready for the unexpected. When you have taken all of these steps you will see an immediate improvement in how well you are able to tackle speaking in front of others. Create your own system or routine to over time normalize this process and eventually it will come to you as easily as second nature. The top professionals started out on the bottom, too. Learn from the best and take the stage for yourself!
Submission by Trushar Mody is a leading trainer for Encore Consulting Group. As a warehouse of knowledge, he incorporates his more than 25 years of professional experience into his passion for sharing his wisdom with others. He is a thought leader in the field of Emotional Intelligence (EI) as it applies to business success.