Public speaking isn’t a gift that comes naturally to people. Ask some of the most confident public speakers you know, and you’ll learn that they also get nervous when presenting in front of a crowd. Even celebrities like Beyoncé, who has done it a million times, have to overcome stage fright sometimes.
Hence, public speaking is a skill—one that you constantly have to improve to keep yourself from having a mini panic attack before, during, and after a presentation. Lucky for you, it’s not as difficult as it seems. Here are a few things you need to remember to become a better presenter:
1. Imagine the worst-case scenario
They say that the key to remaining calm and collected before a speech is to think positively and expect the best outcomes. Well, that could be true, but did you know that the opposite could also yield desirable results? Contrary to popular belief, picturing the worst-case scenario can have a calming effect.
How? According to organizational behavior expert Nicholas Petrie, forcing yourself to imagine the worst is one way to cope with stress. The logic behind this is that the sooner you put things into perspective, the sooner you’ll accept them and get back to feeling better. By then, you’ll be able to prepare solutions to problems that might come your way.
Let’s put it this way: You’re afraid that you’ll miss a talking point during your presentation. That’s not unusual, but what can you do to avoid that? Perhaps you can jot down notes on a small piece of index card so you won’t have trouble remembering any important detail in your talk. You might also want to include visual cues on your slideshow.
Needless to say, it’s easy to rise above any difficult situation if you anticipate and prepare for it beforehand.
2. Avoid dairy products and heavy meals
It might sound like a silly piece of advice, but your diet can have a huge impact on your speech. Dairy products like milk, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt can lead to increased mucus buildup in your throat, prompting you to clear it up frequently. Surely, you don’t want that kind of distraction to hamper your train of thought.
Additionally, high-fat dairy products and coffee are found to leave you feeling anxious and jittery, especially if you’re not used to them.
Lastly, eating a heavy meal can cause you to slow down and feel lethargic after an hour or two. Hamburgers, fries, and pizza, for instance, are hard to digest and thus sap a great amount of energy from you. This will result in a loss of enthusiasm, which is the most desired trait for a public speaker.
Stick to water (better to keep it at an arm’s length) and lighter foods like crackers or bananas. Just don’t go to a presentation with an empty stomach!
We understand that this is already a cliché, but it’s still worth emphasizing: Practice makes perfect. Whenever you get the chance to rehearse your presentation in the middle of your packed schedule, go grab it.
It’s a good way for you to know whether your speech is already spotless or still needs some reworking. It also ensures that your words make sense when said out loud, as compared to when they are in your head.
Some experts suggest that you practice in front of the mirror. Others say that you’ll gradually be more comfortable with your speech when you practice in different positions (e.g., standing up, sitting down, etc.). If possible, rehearse your speech in the location where you’ll give it. If not, find a setting similar to it. You can also run it by a close friend to see how they’ll react.
4. Engage your audience.
Whether you’re giving a talk in front of students, your colleagues, or a panel of judges, here’s a reminder that none of them is waiting for you to fail. So, just relax and think of your audience as your teammates who want to listen to what you have to say. This way, you’ll be able to connect with them more and make your presentation engaging.
Ask them questions or vice versa. Encourage them to speak their minds. Remember that your audience likes to be heard too, so make them feel like they are part of the conversation. After all, effective communication is a two-way process.
5. Tell jokes sparingly.
While it’s necessary that your audience takes you seriously, telling a few jokes once in a while during your speech shouldn’t hurt. In fact, humor makes you approachable and genuine as a speaker. It also helps create a safe space where people can participate without fear. Most importantly, it keeps them energized and engaged, so they don’t lose enthusiasm throughout the talk.
6. Practice mindfulness.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘mindfulness’ a number of times from fitness gurus before, whether they are referring to your diet or workout routine. But mindfulness can also be applied in just about any activity, even while delivering your speech!
This means that you have to be present or in the moment. As you speak, avoid stressing yourself too much about what you forgot to say or how you’re about to end the speech. Do not rush, too. It’s important to have yourself and your audience digest each and every point you give to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Apart from that, mindfulness lets your words flow naturally. It also helps you feel less tensed and focused.
7. Accept and learn from your mistakes.
Maybe you failed to answer a question from a member of the audience. Maybe you forgot a crucial detail and you had to fumble back to it. Or perhaps your PowerPoint did not cooperate well.
These are all okay, so don’t let all these things make you feel less of a talented speaker. Steve Harvey committed a mistake during the 64th Miss Universe pageant in 2015, but he did not let it get in the way of announcing the true winner.
Likewise, don’t let mistakes distract you from imparting the bigger message. Let them be a lesson for when you give your next talk. As they say, every experience is an opportunity to grow.
To Wrap It Up
There’s no denying that public speaking is really a daunting task. That said, there are plenty of ways to conquer that fear. Try these tips and follow these reminders to help you get through your speech successfully!