Very few people will claim to enjoy public speaking. Most people – even people who are quite good at it – view it as a chore they have to get through, and some people of course have full-blown panic attacks at the thought of having to get up in front of a crowd and make a speech or presentation. Worse than anxiety or stress over the idea of public speaking is the very real probability that you’ll be the talk of the meeting or conference after your zombie-like, stiff and awkward attempt at a speech.
The good news is there are a few simple things you can do to improve your public speaking and make yourself more comfortable at it, and none of them involve a stiff drink or hiring an actor to portray you at the next company town hall meeting.
Fall in Love
You’ve likely heard the old saw about imagining your audience naked. Forget it. Imagining the people sitting in front of you in their knickers is more likely to increase you stress levels, not lower them. Instead, try this: Pick one person in the audience, someone you know (or someone you’d like to know!) and talk to them. It’s okay to look around a bit as you speak (and probably advisable so you’re not accused of stalking) but by picking one person to focus on, you’ll get all the visual cues (nods, smiles, etc.) that make talking one-on-one so much easier, and you can pretend the rest of the crowd isn’t even there.
Only Learn the First Five
One huge mistake people make in public speaking is trying to memorize the whole speech or presentation down to the precise length of each pause. The end result is a stiff, overly-practiced style that will bore everyone and stress you out. Instead, memorize just the first five minutes, then simply be familiar with your material, and have a broad outline in hand to prompt you for each speaking point. This means you’ll get off to a strong start, which will calm you down, but you’ll still have a natural, engaging style throughout the bulk of the talk.
No, we don’t mean you should do a juggling act or anything while you’re on stage, but you should have something for your hands. A pen will work in a pinch, or a pointer of some sort. Even your phone can work as long as you don’t actually look at it. Papers are a bad idea because you will twist and tear them, which will make you look nervous and make your audience nervous in turn, as will fluttering your hands around if you don’t have a prop and leave them to their own devices.
Finally, remind yourself that the only way out is through: You’re going to have to make this speech, so just start speaking. You’d be amazed how well this strategy works, because every word you utter is one moment closer to being able to walk off the stage – and go get that stiff drink we mentioned earlier. You’ll have earned it!