Did you know almost 75 percent of us suffer from some anxiety about public speaking? Research says so.
So you can probably relate to this question I received after speaking to a lively group of up-and-coming entrepreneurs: “How can I be more comfortable as a speaker? I’m never as confident as I’d like to be.” Haven’t we all felt that way before?
Given my work as a consultant, business owner and author, speaking to groups small and large is a very important part of what I do—and I’ve been through that journey, of overcoming the nervousness that surrounds speaking in public.
These changes in habit and thought worked for me and can hopefully help you, too:
1. Stop trying to be someone else.
If you are funny, be funny. If you are informal, be informal. There is no one right way to be a great speaker. Rather than a performance, think of it as sharing your ideas and experiences to help others.
I’ve seen so many interesting people put on a mask when they walk in front of a room. If you communicate very differently as a speaker than when talking with your co-workers, you may have on your “speaker disguise.”
Let yourself shine through and the audience will connect with you—flaws and all.
2. Don’t look for approval. Focus on contributing.
This was a big one for me. If you have your mind on I want to be good, then you will stay inwardly focused. Instead, think about helping even one audience member see a familiar topic differently, hear a great idea they can use or receive needed encouragement.
So ask, Did I have an impact? This outlook is counter to I hope they like me, which makes it all about you—not them.
3. Practice. A lot.
I wish there were an easier way, but I haven’t found it. The more I speak, the more comfortable I get. I think it’s a little like playing Major League Baseball—the crowds won’t get to you if you are comfortable at the plate.
Look for simple ways to get that practice. I know people who have joined groups, like Toastmasters, to get more practice. Or one of my clients volunteered to facilitate the leadership meeting to increase her confidence as a speaker and facilitator. You can also volunteer to speak on your area of expertise at local conferences or association meetings. These smaller venues outside of work can be a safe way to learn and practice.
Nothing replaces getting out there and in front of the room.
4. Watch TED Talks.
There are thousands of TED videos that serve as an instructional library on speaking. These presenters have spent weeks preparing so they can give it their best. Watch how they share their thoughts and connect with the audience. What worked for them that feels right for you? How did they grab their audience’s attention early?
The other thing I love about TED is the visual reminder that there is no one right answer on giving a great presentation. All kinds of personalities and styles can keep you engaged—not just the entertaining extrovert.
5. Video yourself speaking.
Before you think, I don’t have the resources or the budget. This is simple. Just bring an iPad and set it up the next time you speak to a group. Ask a colleague to help. It can be very low key. Nothing replaces a video of you in action because how we think we show up isn’t always the way others see it.
I am conversational and so I like to move around as I talk. I learned from video that sometimes I roam too much. So I had to limit my “travels” a little. I’ve had colleagues and clients learn that they were looking at their slides more than the audience, making statements that sounded like questions based on their inflection or talking too fast. This client learned to slow down and use pauses for great effect. She increased her impact just by watching a video of herself.
Only video will reveal what others see and we don’t.
6. Know your content cold.
This doesn’t mean memorize what you want to say—but go through your key points multiple times so that it’s very familiar and firm in your mind. Prepare well. When you get nervous, really knowing what you want to say will help calm the nerves.
Even when I’m speaking on very familiar topics, I always do a couple of run-throughs. I improvise and adjust, but my core remarks are top of mind before I start.
You can do this. Get your mind focused on impact rather than your personal report card. And, practice. Every time will get a little easier.
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.