Believe it or not, the biggest contributing factor to the fear of public speaking is being unprepared. Most of us remember how sick we felt walking into a classroom to take a test for which we hadn’t studied. (Some of us still have nightmares about it.) Imagine being tested in front of a room of strangers, peers, experts, doubters, etc. without being prepared. Your heart rate is probably elevating just thinking about it. The good news is; there’s no reason to ever make this scenario a reality.
You absolutely positively must prepare and practice your presentation. There is no way around it. Preparation and practice will not only ease your fears, it will also make you an exponentially better presenter. Oh, and as my friend Dale Deletis, speaking coach for many colleges and businesses in the Boston area, reminds us; you must practice OUT LOUD. Saying it to yourself in your own little head simply won’t get the job done.
“No time”, you say? “HOG WASH !”, I reply. We all shower, at least several times a week, and we all drive somewhere alone, possibly once a day. These two occasions are perfect for practicing your presentation ALOUD. I recommend that my clients use a small digital recorder while they practice. That way they can hear not only the content of their presentation, but also the tone of their voice, the lilt of their speech, if they are peppering their sentences with non-words, etc. The more comfortable you are with what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it, the more confident you’ll be when the time comes to give the presentation.
Once you know your content and what it sounds like coming out of your mouth, you want to get to know the actual venue for your presentation. Ideally, you want to see it well in advance. If you are speaking at a conference, get there the day before and visit your presentation room. At the very least, you should arrive 30 minutes in advance of any presentation. If the there’s a designated area for you to speak, stand there and see how it feels. If it doesn’t feel right, you may be able to move things around to better suit your needs. If you’re using a flip chart or PowerPoint, set up the equipment and make sure 1.) everything works, and 2.) it can be seen from everywhere an audience member will sit. If there will be a sound system, try it out, including whatever form of amplification you’ll be using. Your goal is to set yourself up for success; familiarizing yourself with your surroundings will give you a sense of command and control.
“But what about the audience?”, I hear you thinking. “How can I prepare myself for them?” Great question! Another reason I strongly recommend that my clients arrive early (at least 30 minutes) to every speaking engagement. This will enable you to get to know some of the members of your audience, and them to know you. When you do begin presenting, it will be to friends and acquaintances rather than strangers – a much less intimidating situation. In addition, they may even offer experiences and insights of their own about your topic; things you can then reference in your presentation to create more relevancy and draw them in. Getting to know your audience before you begin your presentation provides a terrific networking opportunity as well. They will feel they “know” you, and will refer you to others more readily.
So, before you give your next presentation, remember to practice and prepare. The better you know your material, your audience, and your venue, the better the outcome. You will feel confident, at home and in control. Think about it. Remember how great it felt to walk in to a test prepared?? As the travel brochures say, “This could be you.” Think of the scout motto; “Be prepared” and you will be heard.