Giving presentations and workshops in front of an audience is a great way to raise your profile, connect with your ‘tribe' and gain satisfaction from being able to share valuable insight with others. It’s no secret that I used to be absolutely terrified of public speaking. I used to think that there were those people who are ‘natural’ at speaking in front of an audience, and then the rest of us, who’d rather just hide in a corner and observe. But what I learned was that A) even those who seem natural at it, practice. A lot. And B) that I really love the feeling of connecting with an audience, and potentially providing moments of inspiration. At the beginning the gap from hiding in the corner to standing up on a stage seemed to be filled with too much terror, and it was a long process of pushing through those fears to get to the other side, a process which is always ongoing. But I can genuinely say that now, once I'm up on that stage, I really love every minute of it!
If there's something I've learned from the past years of giving workshops and talks, it's this: even the greatest and most experienced speakers suffer from nerves, it’s an entirely human experience to do so. Even if you right now feel like you're too introverted (as am I), too shy (as am I), or just plain too terrified (I still am, right before), but there's something inside of you yearning to get out to inspire and connect with others, I'm telling you you can do it. I put together some tips that might help you get over that fear, and allow you to enjoy public speaking, despite your nerves.
1 Practice, practice, practice
It’s a very rare individual who can just ‘wing’ an inspiring talk, and even the most of those who seemed to talk spontaneously do so because they have spent hours practicing, or they have delivered the same talk so many times it has become second nature. I am notoriously bad at remembering words or specific things to say, so I tend to create an outline for a presentation in something like Keynote, and then insert key words or terms in the presenter notes that will jog my memory, rather than writing a whole speech down and trying to learn it word for word. So, the talk will most likely be slightly different every time, but the core message and content stays the same, and that’s what I practice delivering. It’s also helpful to force yourself to give your talk to someone else. For some reason it feels absolutely ridiculous and lot more nerve-wracking to deliver a talk to just one person, but if you just go for it it’s the best thing you can do to get your delivery down.
2 Talk about things you're passionate about
The only way to engage an audience is to talk about something you’re passionate about. If you’re going to face your fear and get up on a stage, it doesn’t make any sense creating a presentation on a topic you think might be trendy, or relevant, or anything else than something you are absolutely passionate about telling as many people about as you can. Talk about something that lights you up and you will create an emotional connection with the audience.
3 Nerves are your friend
Adrenaline is a good thing, it’s something that puts you into a fighting mode and gives you the energy you need to take that stage. When you start feeling nervous or panicky, try to bring your thoughts back to your body. Recognising where in your body you are feeling the anxiety will take away its power and make you feel calmer in your head.
4 No one will judge your nerves
Most likely, if you are talking about something you love, no one will even notice you’re nervous. And if they do, they won’t judge you for it, they just want to get as much information and inspiration from you as possible. Plus, absolutely no-one is wishing you’ll fail. They are in the audience because they want to hear from you!
5 Slow down
This is one of the things that takes most practice. For some reason words that in our head seem to be coming out at normal speed, in front of an audience come out at a speed that is hard to follow. So, slow down. Even if you feel like you are spelling things out reeeally slowly. Trust me, for the audience that super slow speed sounds more normal, as they are the ones having to process the information.
6 Find a friendly face
An audience of 6 people can feel daunting in the beginning, never mind when you get up in front of hundreds of strange faces. Find a friendly face or two, and concentrate on them when delivering the most emotional content. Don’t ignore the rest of the audience, let your eyes sweep across the sea of faces once in a while, but when you are feeling wobbly come back to the friendly face and talk directly to them.
7 Calm your body down
When you’re feeling nervous there’s safety in keeping your body in motion, whether that’s by pacing, or rocking back and forth. However, constant movement is really distracting for the audience. Learn to be aware of your body, and try to stand as straight and still as you can in order to have the most impact!
8 Give yourself some props
One of the biggest benefits to public talking is that every time you do it, you are building your confidence. You’ll get used to pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone in a major way, which will make it a lot easier for you to do it in other areas of your life, too. Plus, if you inspire just one new person every time you talk, that’s one more person moving towards something more positive, which can only be a good thing. Well done you!