Public speaking can be one of the most terrifying things to encounter. It’s something everyone at some point in their life has been nervous about. Getting up on that stage, suddenly you have flashbacks to that fifth grade book report that you definitely didn’t prepare for.
But you can learn how to speak in public. You can increase your public speaking skills and give presentations without fear. It just takes time.
Here are my tips to become a better public speaker to get you started:
Get the first gig(s).
Getting your first gig can be tricky, but there is one thing I want you to remember when you’re trying to book stuff: You may have to wait for that nice paycheck.
Why? Because you need to show that you can get an audience. You don’t get paid if you’re not bringing any value. The organizers want to make sure they are getting a bang for their buck. Makes sense, right? Maybe it sucks a bit, and this might mean eating crow (getting paid less than you want) for a while until you’ve done many talks. If you’re not that well known yet, you may have to speak for free.
My first big speaking gig is ultimately what led to my first book, Crush It, becoming a reality. I did a talk at Web 2.0 in New York on building a personal brand through social media, and it became the basis for the book. Speaking can lead to great opportunities, but you have to be willing to eat crow at first to watch those things happen.
Get in the zone.
Prep can be a lot of different things. Maybe you need minimal time to get everything together. Or maybe you need to rehearse it a few times with someone. Figure out what makes you feel most secure in what you are about to say. If you don’t need notes, don’t use them. Just talk. You got this.
And what about those couple minutes just before you get up there? Focus on normal everyday stuff. Check your email. Joke with a friend. Act like the talk isn’t even going to happen. You might find calm in doing ordinary activities.
It works tremendously for me. I am in the zone, I’m ready, but I’m not going over notes. I’m not mouthing anything to myself. Those last minute tendencies people have to want to fix something or change something are destructive. Push them away. Go with the plan. Don’t psych yourself out—nobody wants to be their own cause of destruction. Leave it all behind. You’re ready.
But, do what feels right to you.
The bottom line on preparing really is this: You do you. Self-awareness is so enormously important in our world today. Sure, before I speak, I need to just focus and not think about anything else for a while. But if you need notes? If you need to do push-ups or some lucky ritual to feel good? Do it.
Whatever is going to get you motivated and comfortable with the fact that you are about to take the stage, do it. I am happy to give my advice and tell you what I do, but in the end, you have to hack away at it whatever you have till you figure it out for yourself.
I am a big believer in the fact that listening to gurus won’t actually change your life. I don’t expect everyone to be like me. Not at all. You should be focusing on what works for you. I think people ask successful entrepreneurs questions like, “What does a normal day look like for you?” because they think they might hold some secret to success. Some overarching wisdom that will change everything.
The only advice I can give you is to audit yourself and figure out what makes you work the hardest.
Get excited, not scared.
So what happens when you hit the stage? Weird stuff. You might feel this strange combination of seeing the audience as friends but also enemies. There is a strange mix between these two emotions that happen when you really get into a talk.
For me, I love them for being there and supporting me and being interested in what I have to say, but I also really want them to get the message, to leave with a new understanding of things. And that is a powerful feeling, the pull between those two things.
That is what public speaking is really all about. You want to convey something with nothing but your own voice. You don’t want to seem crazy, but emotion is a good thing. It’s strong. It’s convincing. You’re allowed to get excited about your idea.
I am a professional public speaker who is afraid to read aloud. Seriously.
I talked about it in an answer on my YouTube show. The gist of it is this: If you give me a piece of paper to read from, or any kind of notes, I freeze up. I can’t do it. It becomes impossible for me to perform. A while back, I had to read a commercial on a radio show before being the guest, and they gave me a piece of paper with everything I had to say. I completely botched it. I kept messing up. Finally, one of the guys on the radio show suggested I lose the paper and just talk.
That did the trick.
It just showed me even more that you need to know yourself. I am self-aware enough to know I can’t speak under those circumstances. I can’t bring notes on stage. So like I said above, know yourself. Try every different option or idea until you have exhausted them and found the one that works for you.
The good thing is, you can afford to mess up a little. But only a little. Why? Because…
You’re only as good as your last talk.
So you did it. You did that first gig and it went… fine? Amazingly? Not great?
Well I have good and bad news. The good news is: You’re only as good as your last speaking engagement. The bad news is: You’re only as good as your last speaking engagement.
Even if you’ve had a long career of public speaking, seven or eight years for me, none of that matters. The second you take that stage, you’re basically wiping the slate clean. People only remember your last at bat. Make it an amazing one.
This post originally appeared on GaryVaynerchuk.com.