Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that most people attending a funeral would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy. As ludicrous as this may sound, that’s a reality for many people.
Fear of public speaking is common, but it’s an important skill to develop to help advance your career.
For anyone out there looking to hone their presentation skills, whether it’s for a speech on stage in front of a large audience, in a formal executive meeting or a casual presentation for your own team, here are a few tips to consider:
Know Your Points COLD. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! The best way to build your confidence is to be prepared. Try rehearsing your talk in a variety of environments and under different conditions. I sometimes practice with my TV on to help me prepare for potential distractions. Don’t worry too much about memorizing your talk line for line. People aren’t as interested in the particular words you choose, it’s more about your overall message and energy.
It’s important to be comfortable enough with what you are trying to convey so you can be flexible in making changes on the fly. You never know when things are going to go sideways during a presentation. Your progression can get interrupted by questions, a fire alarm could go off, the location might be moved or the format could get changed, so be sure to have your message points down cold. The one constant you can maintain is knowing your message and being ready to deliver regardless of what comes up.
Avoid Scripts. Many people will disagree with me on this for a variety of reasons, but anyone who saw Hollywood producer Michael Bay’s meltdown at the Consumer Electronics Show in January after his teleprompter failed will understand the importance of not relying entirely on a script.
Instead of just speaking from the gut, Bay fought to recall his lines and then panicked, which made matters worse. As mentioned above, the best way to prepare for a talk is to know a set of talking points, but scripts can be hard to recall word for word in the spotlight and you risk coming across as unnatural or too rehearsed.
Know the message and don’t worry about the words and lines. The more you are able to understand what you are talking about the easier it will be to recall the message and convey it in a genuine way that will be relatable to your audience.
Don’t Rely on Technology. We have all been there. Laptops, projectors, and internet connections will fail from time-to-time and those times are never convenient. Always prepare as if you are going to have to go old school and actually stand up and talk to the crowd with nothing but your body and voice.
For peace of mind, I always have a copy of my presentation on my laptop, on a flash drive, and in my e-mail. And if all else fails I always bring a hard copy of my slide deck. Regardless of what happens with your technology, remember the audience is there to hear you. Everything else should be a sideshow.
Never Admit You are Nervous. It drives me nuts when speakers open with “sorry, I’m a little nervous today.” More often than not, the audience can’t tell, so don’t make them aware of your nerves. When you get on stage your job is to deliver, nerves or no nerves. Admitting to being nervous won’t endear an audience to you. It will more likely give them pause about your credibility as a speaker. Whatever fears you may have, just roll with it.
Relax… Pause… Reset. We all stumble, it’s really a matter of whether or not you fall. If you find yourself getting tripped-up or losing track, the last thing you want to do is panic because it can have a snowballing effect. Instead, just take a moment, breathe and step back. Remember, the audience doesn’t know your lines and their expectations usually aren’t as high as you think. A moment of pause if far less memorable than a moment of panic.
Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and the new on-line course The YOU Plan for Career Change on Udemy. Dr. Woody is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership. Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook.