According to surveys I have seen, most people fear death less than they fear speaking in front of an audience.
If you have a presentation coming up, you are likely losing weight and sleep while you feel it creeping closer like the tumbrel* wheels inching their way toward the gallows.
My name is Chris Ellis and I am a blogger, speaker, and a professional musician, singer and instructor. Over the years I have performed thousands of times in front of huge crowds, on street corners and in bars, restaurants, and wineries. You name it and I have played it.
Having experienced both incredible highs of a near perfect performance to nerve-jangling near-complete failures, I have worked out exactly what it takes to be a fabulous speaker or performer.
While I may not be able to wave my magic wand and turn you into Regis Philbin, I can give you simple and creative methods of making public speaking easy and perhaps enjoyable.
The key to doing anything is knowing how to do it. Do these things and you will succeed.
1) Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Gather your facts and double check them. Make sure you are not just a conduit for them but understand them fully. Take the time to work out for yourself why they are important and how they relate to each other.
Make sure your facts don’t contradict each other and don’t put in any other data that doesn’t specifically relate to your subject. Present your data in a sequence that makes sense!
Failing to do these things creates confusion in the mind of your audience and people hate to be confused.
2) Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!
We all hear that we are supposed to practice our presentations in front of a mirror, but how many of us actually do that?
Get out all of your notes and equipment, and practice. Using a video camera to record your practice is vital.
Pay attention to how you look. Do you look confident? If not, there is something you are doing with your body to convey insecurity. Look at every little thing you are doing that may distract your audience from focusing on your words and ideas. Correct these things.
Go to Youtube and find a speaker you would like to emulate. Great comedians are great speakers.
Work out what you need to do to make your presentation look like that of a great speaker.
Don’t read off a page or screen. Talk to your audience.
3) Practice making mistakes.
Look at your upcoming presentation and decide what could go wrong. For example, what if someone asks you a question and draws you into a long conversation on a point that is only interesting to him? You could lose your audience if you engage.
Practice handling that person so that you don’t go off into the weeds with him forever while your audience starts checking their text messages.
4) Find out who your audience is.
Before you start, find out about your audience. What is their average age? What are their interests? What do they do for a living? All of these things help you make a presentation that is as personal as it can be to each of your audience members.
If you start talking to a room full of divorcees about the joys of marriage, it might not be real to them. Create a new presentation for each new audience.
5) Get to the venue early and practice using the equipment there.
Musicians have what is called a “sound check” before every show. During this sound check, the person running sound, checks the levels of the microphones and amplifiers to ensure that the sound is balanced.
The musicians get onstage and do a few songs so that they are familiar with that particular venue and the equipment. Every venue and set of equipment is different. You must be familiar and comfortable with the equipment you will be using or your attention will not be where it needs to be, on interaction with your audience.
Above all, make sure your microphone does not feed back. When it does, it emits a high-pitched squeal that is extremely unpleasant. Do not point the mic at any of the speakers and don’t have it on so high that it distorts. Nothing clears a room faster than high-pitched feedback.
Ensure that you know how to set microphone level before your presentation. It makes you look like a total amateur when you start talking and people start yelling “Can’t hear you!”. You then waste everyone’s time setting the levels. By then you have lost your audience and it is tough to get them back on your side.
6) Don’t picture your audience naked!
Really! Who came up with that idea? That is wayyy too much work! How can you focus on what you are saying and your audience if you are busy trying to create a mental image of even one person?
Instead of working that hard, simply take a little time before you go on. Look at your audience and decide that they are all on your side and really want to hear what you have to say.
Find things to like about your audience. That guy’s tie is awesome. This lady’s dress is beautiful. This one’s eyes are pretty.
Your audience is not a hostile crowd waiting to lynch you. They are gathered there to hear what you have to say. They really want you to succeed.
7) Talk to your audience
Don’t stare up at a screen or look over the heads of your audience. You are talking to them and they are listening and responding. A good presentation should be a sort of dialogue. There is give and take, but you must always be in control.
Invite your audience to ask you questions if something occurs that they don’t understand. Don’t spend too much time with any one person. Let them know that you will be available after the presentation to talk to them.
Creating a relationship with your audience entails maintaining control while inviting interaction. It is a delicate skill and requires practice.
8) Bring in top-notch speakers who know how to really teach.
If you do this wisely, you can have your speakers take over a good portion of your presentation while sitting there looking brilliant for having chosen them.
Your association with brilliance will convince your audience that you are brilliant because you were able to find these guys and get them to work with you. And guess what? That is brilliant!
I do this with my students a lot. I book the venue and sing a few songs but then I let them rip! They look great, they make me look fabulous and it is a lot less work for me!
Don’t be afraid of asking brilliant people to help out. Brilliant people know the value of networking and many times are looking for an opportunity to jump in.
9) Don’t use jargon or unintelligible language!
If you throw in a bunch of jargon, acronyms and words your audience doesn’t understand, they will become restless and irritated. If you must use unfamiliar terms, explain to your audience what they mean.
Contrary to what many people think, it is not the speaker who uses big words and complex explanations who is successful.
The speaker who can take a subject, break it down and explain it in simple and understandable terms is very popular. This is a very particular skill but one which, when mastered, will make you extremely valuable.
10) Dress for confidence.
What colors make you feel bold? What shoes will make you feel confident (Hint: 6-inch stilettos worn for the first time is a bad plan!)
Create the picture in your mind of the ideal You giving your presentation. What is the ideal You wearing? Try out your outfits and move around in them, stand for a long time in them and really decide which one will make you feel the most comfortable and yet project an air of confidence.
11) Give your audience something to do.
The presentations that kill are the ones that give the audience something they can do immediately to solve a problem or handle a situation they find pressing.
If you are talking about improving relationships, give your audience some exercises that will help them communicate better. If you are giving a cooking presentation, give them a simple but great recipe to go home and try. Your audience should be excited to go out and try out what they learned.
12) Think past your presentation
Despite all of your preparation, you may still be nervous. In fact, you may be petrified. If you can’t get your mind off your upcoming presentation and you are losing sleep, create a mental image picture of what you will do after your presentation is over. Picture yourself having a nice meal and a glass of wine congratulating yourself on giving a great performance.
When a dreaded event is in the future, our minds tend to move to that point in the future and stick there. By creating an image of the future beyond it, you can unstick your attention and you will feel a lot better.
You may even find that once you have done all of the above steps, you won’t be worried at all. My best remedy for nerves is to know your stuff backward and forward, know you can handle anything on stage and know you can direct and control your audience.
Public speaking and performing is a skill unto itself and, unfortunately, there is nowhere you can hone that skill except in front of people. Therefore if you succeed or fail you will have an audience.
Taking the time to do the above steps thoroughly will stack the deck overwhelmingly in your favor.
Go give a killer presentation! Enjoy yourself!
*Tumbrel: An open cart used to transport the condemned to the guillotine during the French Revolution.