If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, the pressure when making presentations can be intense. My own anxiety about getting up to speak in front of a group of people started about halfway through high school with an eye twitch that persisted during my entire Spanish class presentation. You can imagine how that only added to my distress and made it difficult to focus on the content I was trying to share, which then compounded my anxiety further.
For years, I was terrified to speak in front of people because the twitch kept coming back. I recall a particularly stressful executive presentation that I had to make in my first “real” job as an intern at Colgate-Palmolive Co. I was asked to do an analysis of some performance data for our call center and to make recommendations on staffing levels during peak and slow periods. I was then asked to present this information to our director and other members of our leadership team. Needless to say, I ended up burying my face into my notes as I flipped from one slide to the next. It didn’t go well.
This year, nearly a decade later, I was fortunate to attend SAP’s September TechEd conference in Las Vegas, during which I gave approximately half a dozen presentations to various audiences throughout the show. At some point during the conference, I was approached by one of my colleagues who had asked if I was at all nervous doing these presentations. Without hesitation, I shrugged and said something to the effect of, “why would I be?” It was at this point that I realized that I had, at some point, been cured of my stage fright.
It got me thinking — how did I go from the terrified intern nearly ten years ago to someone who doesn’t think twice about getting up in front of a crowd of strangers and waxing poetic about community and digital content? Well, I’ll tell you one thing – it wasn’t magical, but it was a natural progression.
Here are three tips for getting over your fear of the mic:
- Speak about things you’re passionate about. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get rambling about something that you care very deeply about? Even if your assignment doesn’t exactly get you as riled up as, say, your favorite hobby, find ways to bring your passions and your personality into the conversation. For example, in my recent presentation on blogging best practices, I integrated one of my favorite movies (The Princess Bride) throughout the examples I used.
- If you can’t get passionate, get knowledgeable. If you just cannot find a way to connect with your topic on a personal level, at least get to know the material well enough to speak about it conversationally. This means getting to the point that you won’t need cue cards or notes to speak about the topic. Instead, gain an understanding that allows you to speak from the creative idea center of your mind, rather than from your memory. This will give you greater flexibility in case you get “off script” to adapt to a live audience (and all the potential challenges that come with it).
- Practice. This isn’t an allusion to some mysterious lifehack. (I have never understood the whole “pretend the audience is naked” idea, nor the “practice in the mirror” strategy.) When I say “practice,” I mean exactly that. Start small by speaking up more in social and professional situations. For example, share updates with your colleagues during team meetings, complete with visuals, such as slide decks. Next, start recording yourself speaking on topics that you are interested in or that are related to your work. Not only do these recordings serve as great learning tools for you, but they could be used to share with your network and build your reputation as an expert. Plus, you will get used to hearing yourself speak and become more comfortable with the idea that just maybe others appreciate what you have to say. Next, take it live! Start out by hosting a few live webinars to get used to responding on the fly to questions and comments. This will better prepare you for a live audience environment.
Once you find yourself in front of a live audience, remind yourself that there are very few situations that are “life or death” when it comes to presentations. If you mess up, roll with it. Your audience is full of real everyday humans with strengths and flaws and senses of humor. Chances are, they’re afraid of the mic too.