I mentioned it in the first post of The Public Speaking Waltz, but it’s worth repeating… nerves are an expected, normal part of speaking in front of an audience. If you’re a speaker and you’re not a bit nervous before delivering your message, it’s probably time to stretch yourself with developing a new talk.
But this also deserves repeating – it is possible to improve our speaking, and in doing so, prepare ourselves to better handle the inevitable pre-delivery anxiety.
Beyond the first three, a few more things to consider:
4. Perspective, perspective, perspective.
If you’re speaking in a teacher-fronted setting – you’re in front, and your audience is before you, not around you – remember that those listening to you are seeing your hand motions differently than you as the speaker do.
Here’s a practical example – if you (the speaker) are referring to someone’s life span (i.e. “Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 and died in 1865”), and you instinctively use one hand gesture to represent “1809”, and the other hand gesture to represent “1865”, typically we use our left hand to mark the first number and our right hand to mark the second number. That’s because we read left to right. But remember, your audience is perceiving your hand motions opposite from what you are. Your left is their right, and your right is their left. So learn to adjust your hand motions to reflect the audience’s perspective. This will take some practice, and it may seem to be a minor point, but in good communication (and in life), details matter. This adjustment will bring clarity, instead of distraction, to your hearers.
5. Beginning and ending, beginning and ending, beginning and ending.
In 20+ years of vocational public speaking, it’s been my experience that people tend to remember the first thing you say and the last thing you say (and hopefully a few things in the middle, too).
In your preparation, spend a good deal of time on how you introduce your topic, and how you wrap up your topic. I frequently write out, word-for-word, the first substantive statement I’ll make. Why? Because it forces me to summarize at the very beginning what my message is, and what’s the most important point of the entire presentation. As a matter of habit, I try to make this opening sentence 14 words or less. This intentional brevity does wonders for me internally, forcing me to avoid the superfluous and instead get to the heart of my message, quickly. Equally important is how you end your presentation. Remember this – your audience is silently shouting, “So what?” End your talk with application, application related to your audience. Think of yourself as a teacher assigning homework. What do you want your audience to do with the things about which you’ve spoken? The effectiveness of your presentation is measured not in head nods and pats on the back, but hearers becoming doers. Land your plane with intention, identifying what’s next, and challenging your audience to get about the business of taking those steps.
6. Confidence, confidence, confidence.
It’s a bit strange to end a discussion of public speaking preparation and managing anxiety by saying, “Be confident.”
However strange it is, “Be confident.”
In public speaking, confidence is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that your adequate preparation and attention to detail frees you to manage that fear and not allow its supremacy.
Speak authoritatively, like you know what you’re talking about. Present with such a tone that your audience knows you’ve prepared well. The believability of your presentation will be in large part due to the confidence you exhibit, which is directly related to the priority you’ve given to preparation. Never forget, people will follow leaders. In fact, they want to follow leaders. So lead, and talk, with confidence. Always with humility, always with respect, but with passion and confidence.
Yesterday, while working on my radio job, a national story broke one hour into my on-air shift, regarding a tragic shooting ten miles from the station. In a matter of moments, what was to have been an afternoon of playing music and interjecting a few breaks three or four times an hour, became 5 1/2 hours of frequent updates on the status of the tragedy in our own backyard. Was I nervous? Certainly. Did I have a bit of fear about how to do it all? Yes. But that’s where preparation comes in. You prepare, you practice, you position yourself, then when the time comes, you proceed.
Stand up and speak. Your audience is waiting. You can do it.