Allison Shapira’s Blog
One of my clients was preparing the opening remarks for a fundraising event. The goal of the event was to raise money to cure a disease that her father had suffered from. She was concerned that she would break down in tears during the speech, so she asked me, “How do I manage my emotions in a speech?”
When you have a personal connection to your subject, showing emotion is a powerful way to connect with your audience as an authentic, genuine person. We connect with people through shared feelings and emotions, whether we are in a corporate boardroom or a nonprofit fundraiser.
However, there’s a difference between showing emotion and being overwhelmed by emotion.
Showing emotion can include:
- Smiling as you talk about an accomplishment you are proud of
- Softening your voice as you reflect on a personal loss
- Speaking with passion about an issue you care about
Being overwhelmed by emotion is when you get flustered to the point where you lose the main message of your speech.
So how you do you show emotion without being overwhelmed by it?
In advance of your speech, ask the 3 questions: Who is your audience, What is your goal, and Why you (why do you care about your subject)? The third question, Why you? helps you connect with an authentic emotion around your subject.
In addition, ask a few other questions, such as, What level of emotion is appropriate for this audience? Where can you push the boundaries without pushing them too far? Let the answers to those questions guide your choice of stories or anecdotes.
If you are concerned about being overwhelmed by emotion in your speech, practice it with someone else in advance. Do you consistently break down at a certain story? If so, you may not be ready to share that particular story. Find a different anecdote that makes the same point but draws less emotion.
Despite our best efforts, there will still be times when we are overcome with emotion in a speech. In those cases, here are some ways to get back on track:
- Pause and breathe
- Have water with you and take a sip when you need a moment to collect your thoughts
- Have notes ready so you can find your place
- Take another deep breath and keep going
- Consider adding the emotional story to the end of your speech, so that you end with meaning and can leave the stage without feeling like you cut the speech short
Tapping into emotion is a powerful and authentic way to connect with your audience. You can feel comfortable showing emotion in your speech and you now have some tips to keep your cool when you are overwhelmed by emotion.
She said: “I have been giving speeches for 10 years. You’d think I’d be more comfortable with it by now! But I’m always afraid that my mind will go blank. That thought alone makes me so nervous!”
Those were the words of a woman I worked with during a recent public speaking workshop.
It happens to all of us. The more important the occasion, the more you care about an issue, the more worried you are that your mind will go blank.
There are ways to prevent it in advance and there are ways to deal with it when it happens. Let’s go through each one.
First, don’t memorize a script. When you memorize, you become an actor reciting lines instead of a genuine person having a conversation with the audience. Instead of memorizing your script, draft bullet points of your remarks and practice giving the speech from those bullet points. Each time, you’ll say something slightly different but each time it will be genuine.
Second, draft your main points in advance. One client I worked with mentioned that when she debates someone who doesn’t believe in the value of her work, she gets so angry that her mind goes blank. I reminded her that because this situation happens frequently, she can anticipate those questions in advance and prepare notes with her main points so that she has them in front of her, like a trusty guide, to keep her focused.
Third, make sure your speech is logical. Another key to prevent your mind going blank is to make sure your speech flows logically from one point to the next. When I’m practicing a speech out loud and can’t remember what comes next, it’s usually because I didn’t take the time to bridge the two ideas. My mind goes blank because my speech lacks structure.
Fourth, calm and center yourself in advance. The more you can relax before your speech, the more present and focused you will be in front of an audience. Take 10 minutes for yourself and walk through these 5 steps to center yourself before the speech.
The more you can relax before your speech, the more present and focused you will be in front of an audience.
But still: what if your mind goes blank even having done all of the above?
- This is the technique I recommend to all my clients:Pause and calmly take a sip of water (which is hopefully located on the nearby lectern or a small table)
- Nod thoughtfully while looking down at your notes
- Find your place
- Keep going with your presentation
You don’t need to tell the audience that you lost your place. Most of the time, they won’t even notice. Simply pause and breathe, find your place, and move on. If you catch yourself rambling and want to get back on track, pause and nod, then say Let me move on to a different point or Let’s come back to a point I mentioned earlier. You look thoughtful and purposeful.
A note about notes: Prepare your notes in a way that makes it easy to find your place. Print them out in large font with plenty of white space and print them single-sided so you’re not turning papers over in front of your audience.
There are ways to prevent your mind going blank and there are ways to deal with it when it happens. Find the right way to prepare and center yourself, and you will ensure that even if your mind does go blank, you can smoothly move through it and give an impactful presentation.
What does it mean to find your voice? It’s a concept I use frequently with clients and friends. Many of them want to sound more authentic and genuine when they speak, but they don’t quite know how.
Watch the video above – filmed outside the United States Capitol in Washington, DC – and read below for the steps you can take to find your own voice.
1. Look inward.
The process of finding your voice starts by looking inward to determine your core values.
What’s important to you? What do you believe in and how does it drive your actions every single day? Identify and validate your core values; perhaps you live the value of selflessness by putting others before yourself. Perhaps you live the value of integrity by always modeling the behavior you want to see from others. Connect with what truly drives you and it will embolden you to speak up.
2. Look outward.
After you’ve looked inward at your values, look outward at the world around you.
Where are those values being challenged? Where does your voice need to be heard? Maybe there’s an issue at work that’s threatening to destroy the workplace culture; perhaps there’s an injustice in your community that no one else will confront. It’s easy to get overwhelmed; which issue calls to you personally or professionally? Choose one and study if from as many angles as you can. The more you learn about an issue, the more confident you will feel speaking up.
3. Build your communication skills.
What do you need to learn to become the speaker you have always wanted to be?
People hold themselves back from speaking up for many reasons: one reason is they believe they aren’t good enough at public speaking. But public speaking is a skill, not a talent. Choose 1-2 areas where you’d like to improve; perhaps it’s learning how to craft an impactful message or how your voice can project strength and warmth. Work with a coach, attend a seminar, or join Toastmasters. Practice these skills in every interaction, from a 1:1 conversation to a group presentation. The more you build your skills, the more you build your confidence.
4. Look for opportunities to speak and build allies.
Look for places where you can speak up and give others a chance to speak.
You’ve determined the issue you’re passionate about and have started to build your communication skills. Now, it’s time to test out those ideas. Start by holding conversations with friends and family, then look to your organization or community (depending on the issue). Remember that this isn’t about pushing your ideas; it’s about creating a dialogue around an issue and finding allies so that you don’t have to speak alone. Who else can you empower to speak up? What shared values can you tap into that everyone can relate to?
5. Take action on your ideas.
Finally, it’s time to take action on your ideas.
What steps are you committed to taking to make your idea a reality? What steps can your audience take? The more focused you are on action, the more you can create a groundswell for change. Your voice becomes a catalyst for action, and you become a role model for others.
At Global Public Speaking, we believe that every person has a voice; every person has something to say. Our mission is to help people find their voice, build their communication skills. and find their confidence to speak up on behalf of what they believe in.
Finding your voice is about self-actualization: determining what’s important to you, what change you want to see in the world, and what you are going to do about it.
It’s the day of a big presentation and you’re so nervous you can’t think straight. Your heart is beating, your palms are sweating, and your shoulders are tense. A million “should have’s” are running through your mind: “I should have practiced more…I should have joined Toastmasters…I should have gone to bed early.”
10 years ago, I remember coaching a group of college students the day they presented their leadership projects to donors, parents, and professors. In the hallway outside the conference room they clustered around me, clamoring for help to calm down. They were so nervous, they couldn’t eat dinner.
Has that ever happened to you?
I led them through the following excise which I use with each and every client, from emerging leaders to senior executives.
No matter our background or level of experience, we all get nervous before a speech or presentation.
Click on the video below to watch a clip that guides you through these exercises, recorded on beautiful Candlewood Lake in Brookfield, CT, and share this with your friends, family or colleagues to help them before an upcoming speech.
Here are 5 steps to calm your nerves right before a speech.
Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can be alone. It might be your office, your hotel room, or even a public restroom at the venue where you are speaking.
Step 2: Get rid of nervous energy. Start by shaking out your arms and legs, one at a time. Stretch out your face to lightly loosen your jaw. Do vocalized lip trills to warm up your voice. Find the right posture for speaking: raise your arms up while you take a deep breath in, then slowly exhale while you lower your arms, keeping your rib cage up. This is the best posture for speaking with confidence.
Step 3: Center yourself. Take deep breaths into your stomach, feeling the energy fill your body. As you exhale, center yourself and be present in the moment. Don’t think about anything other than your breath. Take another breath in and slowly exhale.
Step 4: Remind yourself, “Why You?” Those of you who have worked with me know I like to ask the question “Why you?” constantly. Why do you do what you do? Why do you care about this speech subject and about your audience? Answer those questions out loud. If you have a core value statement, read that out loud. This exercise connects you with your sense of purpose so that you stop focusing on your nerves and instead focus on your message and the impact you want to have on the audience.
Step 5. Run through your opening and closing. The only parts I recommend you memorize in your speech are the first and last sentences, so that when you walk out on stage, you are prepared to start and end with power and purpose.
After you go through these 5 steps, you are ready to give your speech. Look for the smiling, nodding heads in the crowd, smile back at them, and begin to speak. When you’re done, immediately debrief the experience – watch our quick tip video about that.
Public speaking is a skill, not a talent.
Everybody gets nervous before a speech or presentation, but the more you speak, the more confident, comfortable, and authentic you will feel.
Try these exercises and send the video above to your friends, family, or colleagues who are nervous about an upcoming speech or presentation. You will be great!
One of the most common questions I receive is how to get rid of filler words: um, ah, you know, like, so, kind of, sort of, and more. It doesn’t matter what language you speak; every language has its own fillers.
There’s nothing wrong with a few filler words in your speech. Sometimes, they can be an effective way to jump into a meeting or conference call when it’s hard to get a word in otherwise. A well-placed filler such as “well” or “so” can help you wedge your way into a conversation.
But used excessively, filler words can reduce your credibility and authority as a speaker. They literally tell the audience you are unprepared.
They can happen at the beginning of a presentation:
- So, yeah, let’s get started…
In the middle of a sentence:
- I’m the, ah, CEO of…
And at the end of a presentation:
- So, yeah…that’s it, I guess.
Especially when you start or end your presentation with a filler, you lose an opportunity to make a powerful impression on your audience.
So, how do you reduce your filler words? (Those of you who’ve taken my workshops know that my personal filler word is “so”)
- Listen for fillers in other people. Every individual has their own preference for fillers, and many times people in one organization will use the same fillers. Listening for those fillers in others will help you recognize and reduce them in your own speech.
- Practice with a friend or colleague. Practice with someone who can give you a subtle audible or visual cue (knock on the table or raise their hand) every time they hear a filler word. Use our new worksheet “Catch the Fillers” to find out which words you use most often. Note: do this during practice only, not during the actual presentation.
- Practice on your phone. There are applications such as LikeSo and Orai that let you record a practice speech and the app will count the number of filler words. This can be a helpful tool, though those apps don’t catch all the fillers (hopefully they soon will).
- Practice your presentation out loud in advance. Take time to practice your presentation out loud to make sure the language sounds smooth and natural to you. If something doesn’t feel right, fix it in the practice stage so you don’t fumble for words on stage.
- Consciously pause and breathe instead of using a filler. By physically closing your mouth to breathe during a presentation, you stop yourself from using a filler. That deep breathing also gives more power and impact to your next point.
- Practice the power of the pause. Many times, we feel uncomfortable with silence during our presentation. Recognize how powerful a pause can be in creating suspense and causing your audience to lean in for the next thing you say. Note: pauses can be powerful in between phrases, but used excessively they can also cause you to lose momentum.
Remember, it’s OK to have a few filler words; the audience doesn’t expect a perfect speech. But don’t let them distract from the power of your message. The more you practice in advance, the easier it becomes to reduce fillers. Then, when you get in front of an audience, relax and focus on your message, and every word will have impact.
Speaking on a panel can seem less daunting than giving a speech at a conference.
For one thing, you are not alone; you’re sitting on stage with at least two other people. In addition, speaking on a panel carries many of the same benefits as giving a presentation: professional credibility, personal visibility, and great networking opportunities.
While these facts may make you less nervous, they shouldn’t make you less prepared.
Here are some specific tips when speaking on a panel:
How to prepare: It’s critical to find out who else is speaking on the panel. For instance, does everyone feel the same way about an issue, or are you debating one another? Ask the moderator in advance how much time you’ll have to speak and what types of questions will be covered. Prepare your brief introduction and potential responses, just as you would prepare for a formal speech.
Think of your main points in advance: Since you cannot control the questions, make sure you have your main points firmly identified in your mind so you can refer back to them throughout the conversation. It’s OK to bring a piece of paper or notepad with you on stage.
Think about attire and posture: Usually, panelists are seated on a raised stage. For women, that means paying attention to the length of your skirt or deciding to wear pants in order to be more comfortable. For men, that means thinking about your posture; I’ve observed some male panelists who spread their legs wide in an overly casual way when sitting on a high stool. For both men and women, sometimes the front row’s line of sight will be right at your legs or shoes, so pay special attention to how the bottom half of your body will appear.
Think about voice and energy: I always recommend speaking with a clear, conversational voice. The challenge is that on a panel, we tend to take our cues from others. If the moderator speaks in a low voice, we might subconsciously mirror their voice in order to blend in. At one conference, a client of mine mentioned he was consciously lowering his energy level so he wouldn’t stick out on the panel. But in fact, if he had used his natural energy and enthusiasm, he could have lifted the energy of the entire panel and in turn, the audience.
Think about eye contact: Where do you look when seated on a panel? You can look at the moderator and at the other panelists, but don’t forget to look out at the audience, especially when answering a question. Some people will answer directly to the moderator, but the real audience comprises all the people in the audience, with whom you are building a relationship of trust. Eye contact builds that relationship.
If you’re moderating the panel, here are some specific tips:
Serving as a moderator is a great honor and an intensive experience. Instead of preparing a speech, you act as a facilitator and guide by setting the overall mood and flow of the discussion. You keep panelists on track, ensure all voices are heard, and invite the audience to participate.
Before the conference, consider having a briefing call with all the panelists to make sure everyone understands the goals and format. It also helps the panelists get to know each other. On stage, you can start with a brief overview of the subject, your personal connection, and a brief introduction of each panelist. If you’ve set strict time limits for discussions, mention that publicly because it gives you permission to politely interrupt panelists when they speak for too long.
Here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen moderators make:
- Speaking for too long. The moderator is a facilitator, not another panelist. You should set up the conversation but not dominate it.
- Not leaving enough time for audience questions. Many times, moderators will ask too many questions of the panelists and not allow enough time for audience questions. As someone who nearly always asks a question, that frustrates me in the audience.
- Not allowing equal time for all panelists. Make sure each panelist has an opportunity for air time so they don’t feel like they have to jump in and interrupt someone else in order to speak.
- Speaking too softly. As the moderator, you are setting the tone for the entire discussion. If you speak with a low voice, your panelists will unconsciously mirror that and it will bring down the energy of the entire panel.
Panel discussions are a terrific opportunity for credibility, visibility, and networking. Use these tips to maximize those situations and they will help you become a more confident and more engaging speaker.
We took these tips from our new “Speaking with Confidence” manual which walks you through the process of writing, practicing, and delivering a speech or presentation. Learn more about that manual here: http://www.allisonshapira.com/store/speaking-confidence-digital-manual/
For this month’s newsletter, we interviewed Michelle Sara King, President and CEO of King Consults, to learn more about how public speakers can use social media to engage with their audiences before, during, and after a speech, presentation, or panel discussion.
During our interview, Michelle guided us through the best practices and also the biggest mistakes speakers make.
As a general rule, you want to be so engaging as a speaker that people put down their phones and listen. However, sometimes you can engage your audience even more by having them take out their phones and participate.
Michelle says, “I’ve been on both sides, as a panel moderator and as an audience member. As an audience member, I’ve tweeted questions and then heard them asked live during the event. It feels like direct engagement. When you’re a moderator, sometimes you see people on their phone and wonder if they are actually interested in the conversation or if they’re just on their phone… It’s really interesting to see people’s tweets and know that they are actually engaged.
A few months ago, I moderated an event for the American Society of Association Executives on doing business in Korea. I posted on Twitter before the event, engaged with people, and encouraged them to register. During the event, we had a dialogue on Twitter and people tweeted questions out that I could answer in real time.”
Here are Michelle’s tips to engage your audience using social media:
- Do your research beforehand. Start following the organization and the other speakers’ Twitter handles before the event. Retweet or like their tweets, Direct Message them, and retweet any relevant follow-up tweets.
- Post on social media before the event to encourage people to follow you and the event ahead of time. You can say, “Excited to attend next week’s event on XYZ!” with a link to the event page.
- Send sample tweets to the event organizers. Include 3-4 sample tweets in your pre-event preparation materials so you ensure that the organizers promote your main messages.
- Make it easy to find you online. Put your social media handles on printed materials, your slides, event signage, and even your business card.
- Use hashtags. Use the event hashtag or create your own in addition, to let your brand stand out. That way, you can more effectively focus on your own perspective and you can continue using the hashtag even after the event to engage with people.
- Guide your audience. Speakers and moderators should directly invite the audience to engage through social media. Keep the request goal-focused and action-oriented, such as “Send us your questions and we’ll answer them live.”
- Answer questions in real time. If you ask people to tweet questions at you in real time, make sure you respond in real time to the entire audience. Both the speech and social media should feel like a real conversation with your audience. If you ask them to tweet for follow up after the event, be available to respond later on.
- Continue the discussion. The most successful events are ones that continue the discussion or lead to follow-up activity. If you present unique solutions to challenging problems during the speech, keep your online audience updated as you implement those solutions.
At Global Public Speaking, we always encourage practicing before an event. In addition to the above tips, we recommend you build social media into your pre-event practice. You can invite a friend or colleague to tweet questions at you to simulate answering in real time.
Although Twitter is the most effective engagement tool to use during presentations, LinkedIn and Facebook can also be useful in engaging audiences before and after events. Use these platforms to post pre-event information and a summary along with a few quotes or photos from the event. Facebook Live can also be a great way to engage with a virtual audience and continue the conversation going forward.
When should you not use social media?
- When it’s off the record. The “record” now includes public sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
- When the content is sensitive. “I go to events focused on cyber security or intelligence, and I don’t tweet from those events.” – Michelle
- During internal meetings. To engage in a high-level or confidential discussion of an issue or strategy, people need to feel comfortable that their ideas will remain confidential.
What are the biggest mistakes speakers make when using social media?
- Misquoting audience members or fellow speakers. The challenge in using social media at events is making sure you’re accurate. Don’t use a direct quote unless you’re sure of the wording. And if you’re going to quote an audience member, ask their permission first.
- Not following up. Follow-up is key to gaining trust and credibility with your audience. If they ask questions on social media, answer them in a timely manner.
- Using too many hashtags for one event. The fewer hashtags and handles you use, the easier it will be for the audience to engage with you.
- And at Global Public Speaking, we’ll add this one: Not understanding social media before getting on stage. Familiarizing yourself with these tools in advance is critical.
Thank you, Michelle Sara King, for sharing your knowledge with our Global Public Speaking community. You can find Michelle at ASAE and Women in Government Relations events or networking in the Washington, DC area. Links for Michelle’s social platforms are below:
If you are a meeting planner or part of an association that is interested in public speaking training for industry speakers, please visit our information page here: www.allisonshapira.com/nomoreboringspeeches
One of the best ways to make progress from one speech to the next is to ask others for feedback. But soliciting feedback can be an awkward conversation, especially when you have to ask colleagues, direct reports, or managers.
Here are some tips for easily asking others to help you.
- Find a trusted friend or colleague. Many of us have people in our lives with whom we talk through challenges or go to for advice. Identify someone whose feedback you’d truly value and who is in a position to actually hear you speak.
- Ask that person in advance. Give someone advance notice before asking them for feedback on a speech. Asking them after you’ve already given the speech can put them on the spot – they might not have been paying enough attention to offer detailed feedback.
- Be specific about the kind of feedback you’d like. Would you like feedback on your messaging or nonverbal communication? Is there a particular filler word (um, ah, so, you know, just) that you’d like them to listen for? The more specific you are in your request, the easier it is to receive feedback. Think of three main issues that are most important to you, such as: filler words, conciseness of content, and speed of delivery.
- Ask for feedback immediately after the event. We get the richest, most unfiltered feedback immediately after an event, when it’s fresh in our minds. If you can, set aside 10 minutes after the event to debrief with that person in a quiet space. If it’s not possible to debrief immediately, then try to do it within the same day.
- Listen to the feedback without judgment and write it down. You’ll be tempted to respond with, “yes, but…” and be defensive when receiving the feedback. Simply listen and learn from someone else’s interpretation of your speech.
- Do your own debrief as well. In addition to learning from someone else, always do your own debrief immediately after a speech, asking yourself three questions: What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently next time?
DOs and DON’Ts when soliciting feedback:
- DO try to get feedback after every single speech. The more you make it a habit, the more progress you will make in your speaking skills.
- DO recognize the value of feedback. You can give the same speech 100 times, but if you never learn what you’re doing wrong, you could be making the same mistakes over and over. It’s also essential to hear how your humor, personality, and message come across to others.
- DO use this as an opportunity to deepen your working relationship with colleagues. Giving and receiving feedback can make both parties feel vulnerable which actually leads to a stronger relationship of trust.
- DON’T ask someone who is also speaking at (or moderating) the event to give you feedback. They could be too distracted thinking about their own remarks to offer substantive feedback. Ask someone without a speaking role.
- DON’T ask too many people for feedback all at once: you might be overwhelmed with too many disparate comments. Ask one or two trusted friends or colleagues.
- DON’T feel like you need to change yourself based on every piece of feedback. Listen to it, absorb it, and then think about what you’d like to change. You can always disagree with the feedback unless you are hearing the same theme from multiple people.
Does your voice ever sound gravelly or too low, trailing off at the end of a sentence? It’s a phenomenon called vocal fry. When you hold your breath while speaking, constricting the air through your vocal chords, you create vocal fry.
Watch the video below for an example:
Vocal fry is damaging in two ways: First, it’s physically damaging to your vocal chords when you do it consistently. Second, it’s damaging to your credibility because it reduces your authority when speaking with others. Consider this 2014 article in The Atlantic suggesting that the use of vocal fry is particularly damaging for women’s job prospects. In my workshops and executive coaching sessions, I hear both men and women use it and recommend that everybody avoid it – it hurts all of us!
Why do people use vocal fry? Most people don’t realize they are doing it. Maybe they picked it up from their friends (or by watching TV, as this article referencing the Kardashians discusses). It’s common for us to pick up accents, slang, and filler words from the people around us – a colleague of mine calls it “linguistic contagion”. Smoking and other bad habits that cause damage to the vocal chords can also affect the sound and quality of your voice.
How can you speak with power and resonance, instead of vocal fry? It all comes down to breathing. When you breathe deeply and then exhale while speaking on the breath, you’re able to produce a richer and fuller sound. Click here for breathing tips from my article in the Harvard Business Review.
Try these steps to speak with power and reduce vocal fry:
- Take your smart phone and open the memo recorder.
- Record yourself normally saying, “Good morning, I’m happy to be here today.”
- Then take a deep breath and slowly exhale while speaking on the breath, as if the breath were projecting (not pushing) your words forward, while repeating the same sentence above.
- Listen to both recordings and see if you can hear the difference.
- Every time you speak – especially when you introduce yourself, when people form their first impressions of you – imagine speaking on the breath so that you support the words and don’t let them drop into your throat.
Reducing vocal fry takes practice and effort, but the effect will liberate your voice so you can speak with power and impact.
For our last newsletter of 2016, we are sharing an article by Catherine Clifford of CNBC who interviewed Global Public Speaking CEO and Founder Allison Shapira and other experts on the subject of public speaking. From all of us at Global Public Speaking, we wish you a very happy holiday season and an inspiring New Year!
Original Post: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/11/13-ways-to-overcome-your-fear-of-public-speaking-and-win-the-room.html by Catherine Clifford on Tuesday, 11 Oct 2016 | 9:46 AM ET
More Americans are terrified of public speaking than are afraid of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, loneliness, dying, theft, volcanoes, aging, needles, mass shootings, kidnappings and ghosts.
“Glossophobia,” the medical term for stage fright, makes 28.4 percent of the adults in the U.S. either afraid or very afraid, according to The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Meanwhile, volcanoes scare 19.7 percent of American adults and 8.5 percent of adults are afraid of zombies, according to the report.
Despite the fact that public speaking often induces terror, it’s a vital skill for potential entrepreneurs and business owners who must be able to have to get up in front of a crowd to make a pitch, present an idea, or close a deal.
Here are 13 great secrets from professional speakers, experts, and coaches to help you overcome stage fright and give an ace presentation.
1. Speak from the heart
Talk about your own experiences. “Telling personal, true stories is the best way to impart information and inspire others. And it is easy to remember our own stories!” says Gary Schmidt, Past International President of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that helps members improve their public speaking skills.
And avoid overly complicated language. It loses the audience. “You don’t need jargon to sound like you know what you’re talking about; bring in your own personal stories and experiences to build a persuasive case for why you are passionate about what you do. Your enthusiasm is your best sales tool,” says Allison Shapira, founder and CEO of Global Public Speaking.
2. Picture yourself as a winner
“There are many who prepare mentally minutes before speaking or maybe on the same day. One of the strongest factors is to prepare mentally from the instant that a speaking engagement is confirmed,” says Mohammed Murad, Past International President of Toastmasters. “Visualizing the venue and audience contributes greatly to the build up of confidence.”
Being aware of your breath gives you control of your nerves. “Deep breathing before and during your presentation or pitch calms your nerves and adds power and strength to your voice,” says Shapira, who has been a Harvard lecturer, opera singer and TEDx speaker and has launched her own communication consulting firm. “Deep breathing also keeps your voice centered and prevents dangerous uptalk which undermines your credibility and confidence.”
Rochelle Rice, an accredited Toastmasters International speaker, recommends standing with your feet in a wide parallel stance and your arms up before speaking in front of a crowd and then taking five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. It’s also helpful to lift your right arm up and stretch to the right and vice versa, she says. “Lower your arms, bring your legs together and feel the sensation of the breath and the circulation in your body,” she says.
4. Ditch the power point
Powerpoint is a gentle lullaby to your audience. “People will invest in you because of your energy, confidence, and enthusiasm, not because of your slides,” says Shapira. “Make you and your business the focus of your presentation instead of spending hours on the perfect pitch deck.”
5. Don’t practice in your PJs
Simulate the experience of speaking to an audience in your rehearsals, says Sims Wyeth, an executive coach, business writer, author, and speaker. Wyeth started his career as an actor and has previously taught theater, and voice & speech at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Michael Chekhov Studio, the Actors’ and Directors’ Lab, and the University of New Orleans.
“Be well rehearsed, which means you should rehearse under performance-like pressure,” says Wyeth. “Rehearsal is the work, performance is the play, and rehearsing under performance-like pressure acclimates you to the demands of public speaking.”
There are neurological changes that occur when you practice. “Rehearsal transfers your words and ideas from the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher order conscious thought, to your cerebellum, which orchestrates the lightning fast motor activation needed to perform complex actions, like speaking to crowds, teaching your fingers to play a new piece of music, or learning your lines for a play,” says Wyeth, who is also the author of The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.
6. Public speaking is a skill, not a talent
“Don’t assume you need to be born a natural public speaker; recognize that it’s a learnable (and vital) skill for promoting your business to investors, customers, and partners. Put aside time for practice and get feedback from colleagues and friends,” says Shapira.
“You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business.”
And if you are the head of a business, you are the one who is going to have to be on stage. “You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business,” she says.
7. Nail the beginning and the ending
Your opening sets the tone for your speech and your closing is what you will leave your audience with. Since entrepreneurs have only eight words to get the attention of a venture capitalist in a pitch, skip the “So, Yeah,” at the start, says Shapira. Jump right in. And in your conclusion, leave your audience with a call to action or some other way for people to get involved.
“The most important parts of a speech are the opening and the conclusion,” says Shapira. “Rather than expecting those sentences to happen spontaneously in the moment; write and practice them in advance.”
Even better: memorize. Have the opening, and closing nailed down and then have a bullet point version of the rest of your speech memorized, suggests Rochelle Rice, one of the 69 Accredited Speakers with Toastmasters International and a board member of the National Speakers Association.
8. Avoid improv
Practice, practice, practice. “Don’t wing it, no matter how good you think you are at thinking on your feet,” says Schmidt. “Mark Twain said it best: ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.'”
9. Be yourself and have a good time
If you put on a front, the audience will pick up on it. “Speaking is not acting,” says Murad. “People usually sense the personality, and it becomes apparent that the speaker is acting by trying to be someone else. There is no harm in researching other speaker styles, but a speaker needs to develop a style distinct to their personality, never imitate styles.”
Enthusiasm and boredom are contagious. “If you are passionate about your topic and are excited to present to others, it will be infectious,” says Schmidt. “If you are having fun as a speaker, your audience will have fun observing your speech.”
“Speaking is not acting.”
10. Tailor the speech to the audience
Even if you have given the speech before, be sure to make tweaks to engage the specific audience.
11. Choose a one word mantra
Your brain gets slowed down by complicated instructions, says Wyeth. “Psychologists have established that one-word instruction to yourself when you’re under pressure generates the best performance. Sports psychologists encourage professional golfers to pick one word as they get ready to putt. ‘Smooth,’ is a good one,” he says.
“Mark Twain said it best: ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.’”
“Instructing your brain to remember to breathe, smile, stand up straight, slow down, and look at the audience will result in a disaster. Choose one word to be your North Star, something like, ‘Relax,’ or ‘Fun,’ or ‘Easy.'”
12. Be patient with yourself
You probably won’t be Tony Robbins on your first try. “Public speaking is not easy. It takes time, practice and patience to hone your skills,” says Rice.
13. Finally: don’t overthink
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, intense concentration will trip you up, says Wyeth. “The cerebellum is responsible for orchestrating lightning fast recollection of your words and ideas when you’re speaking, but it’s not reliable. It’s not consciously accessible. You can’t knock on its door and say, ‘Ok, cerebellum, I’m ready to speak.’ Open up and do your thing,” he says.
“The science is clear. If you don’t want to choke, don’t monitor your own performance. Be well-rehearsed, trust yourself, and get on with it. Well-meaning people will tell you to slow down and continuously assess yourself. Don’t do it. Dive in with both feet. It’ll keep your feet out of your mouth.”