Public speaking!

Those two words, when put together, can strike fear into many people.  Early in my career I was asked to give a speech at a conference.  The thought of giving the talk made my heart pound, palms sweat and had me envision getting sick rather than stand up in front of people.  I went ahead and gave the speech, not my best, but I did get through it.

Since that first speech I’ve given hundreds more.  Now I enjoy the process and look for any opportunity I can to speak in front of a crowd.  Here are some things I’ve learned about public speaking that might help you.

Lesson 1:  Don’t write it out.  Early on I would write out every word I wanted to say.  Now I may only have a few key words written down or have a power point presentation that prompts me.  This keeps me conversational and engaged with the audience -  so I don’t stumble and read out loud.

Lesson 2:  Few words if any.  When using a power point presentation I use pictures that represent what I want to say.  Images keep the audience interested.  There is nothing so boring as watching a presenter read bullet point after bullet point.

Lesson 3:  No one remembers.  People have very short memories.  A flub on the stage most likely goes unnoticed and doesn’t stay around as a memory.  Don’t dwell on it when that happens.

Lesson 4:  Preparation.  Ask yourself what you’d like your audience to get out of your presentation.  Why are you giving the speech in the first place?  This will help you design your presentation.  Think of it as telling a story to a friend – what elements do you need to complete the picture?

Lesson 5:  Greet your audience.  At each presentation or workshop, I stand at the door and greet as many people as I can before my presentation.  This builds mini relationships with my audience.  When I start speaking, I’m talking to people I know – it helps calm my nerves.

Lesson 6:  Judgements.  Many people think that everyone in the audience is sitting in judgement about what you’re wearing, how you’re speaking, what you’re saying, what your hair looks like, the list goes on and on.  In reality, you’re not that important!  At best, the audience is mildly paying attention to you in addition to thinking about a million other things pertaining to their lives.

Lesson 7:  Smile.  Before your presentation look at yourself in the mirror.  Say loud and clear – “I will be fabulous!  They will love me.  I love giving presentations.”  Even if you don’t believe it at first, saying it out loud makes it come true.

The more you’re able to give presentations, the easier they will become.  Consider some outside resources to help with the process.  Perhaps you can join a toastmaster’s group, take a Dale Carnegie course, sign up for a speech class at the local college, take an acting class or hire a presentation coach.

What are your secrets to giving a presentation?  What calms you down in front of an audience?  What have you learned from others about giving presentations?  Leave your comments below.

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6 Responses to Public speaking!

  • Ed Finn says:

    Hi Holly, I had a tremendous fear of public speaking throughout my life and made myself join Toastmasters when I got out of college. I was able to overcome much of that fear but there is still a little that usually goes away after I make my first few comments. Later today I will have the opportunity to talk to all the priests of the Diocese at a luncheon that St. Ambrose hosts. They tend to be a friendly audience and so I am looking forward to being in front of them.

    Thanks for continuing to share your wisdom! May you and John have a nice summer. Ed

    • Holly says:

      Ed – It’s very common to continue to have a few nerves as you begin your speech – these are actually great to have – they keep you engaged and on your toes. I have them myself.

      Thanks for the comment Ed. Toastmasters is a wonderful organization that helps so many!

      Enjoy your summer and thank you for reading my blog, Holly

  • Great tips, Holly! And you will be FABULOUS tomorrow at your guest-speaking event!

  • Holly, I especially appreciate lesson 5. It converts you from feeling like a stranger (which makes you ask yourself, “Do they like me?”) to feeling like an acquaintance. One of my favorite tips, which I learned years ago from a Nightingale-Conant program, is this: Never tell your audience at the start of a speech how many items you are going to cover during your speech! This eliminates the fear of an audience member asking after your speech why you did not cover X number of items.

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