If you are terrified of public speaking, here are 15 best practices that will help you succeed on your big day.
In the weeks and days before your speech…
1. Be well prepared by practicing out loud at least three times in a safe, feedback rich environment. Gathering a group of friends or going to a Toastmasters meeting trumps speaking to the mirror for two reason. First, it simulates a real setting. Second, you are more likely to actually practice once you commit to a scheduled practice time.
2. Visit the room well in advance of the presentation date to get comfortable with the layout and what it feels like to stand on a stage.
3. Gain clarity on all logistical details such as the room setup, expected audience size and expectations, key contacts, and audio-visual considerations
4. Exercise when you are feeling stressed about your upcoming speech.
5. Practice the following progression if you are extremely afraid of public speaking. (I learned this by watching Richard Butterfield coach an extremely reluctant speaker):
a. Start by speaking while seated in a chair
b. Transition to speaking while standing behind the chair – possibly putting your hands on the back of the chair for safety
c. Move to the side of the chair- perhaps keep one hand on the back of the chair for safety
d. Next, get in front of the chair
e. Finally, have someone take the chair away
6. Use positive self-talk and imagine yourself giving a successful presentation.
On the day of your speech…
7. Arrive early to get comfortable with your environment and to take care of any last minute logistics
8. Network with you audience before your speech and ask them “what do you hope to hear?”
9. Double check all audio-visual technology and always have a “Plan B” such as a one page outline (preferred) or a printed copy of your slide deck
10. Shake your hands and arms vigorously just before you take the stage assuming you are out of sight of your audience. This will release nervous energy.
During your speech…
11. Remember that your audience wants you to succeed
12. Pause and slow down since nerves will make you speak too quickly
13. Take slow, deliberate diaphragmatic breaths (expand your stomach when you breathe in and contract your stomach when you breathe out; if you are doing this right, your shoulders will not move)
14. Keep notes in your pocket. You will probably never need them, but having them there will settle your subconscious.
15. Focus on having a conversation with individual members of your audience. You accomplish this by making eye contact with individuals for a sentence or a thought – about three to five seconds – before moving on to the next person in a random pattern.