In the article “I CAN’T WRITE!” – Yes You Can! (Tip #1: Stop Saying That!) I started with the premise that if you are among the lucky majority of people who can speak, then the truth is that you can also write, and if you want to – or need to! – then there are some very simple steps you can take that will greatly enhance your ability to do so.
I was tempted to begin this article with virtually the same argument: If you can speak to one person then you can speak to a roomful of people. But then I remembered a fundamental difference between people who avoid writing and those who avoid public speaking; the former usually do not like the task, whereas the latter are often terrified of it. So what follows are a few tips that I hope can help you stave off the terror and become such a comfortable public speaker that you may even come to enjoy the process.
Tip #1 – Determine a specific, meaningful outcome, and then commit to it fully.
You don’t need a dictionary to know that self-conscious means being conscious of oneself. But I assure you that this placement of your thoughts and energy is the number one thing working against you as a speaker, so you must turn your attention, instead, outside yourself. An actor must choose to pursue an objective that is grounded in his scene partner in order to be fully alive and in the moment on stage; as a speaker you must do the same. Ask yourself, “What is it that I want the audience (your scene partner as a public speaker) to know or believe or understand or think differently about?” Be crystal clear on that outcome, and then direct all of your attention and energy toward achieving it. When you falter, firmly but gently push your thoughts back outside of yourself, and keep pursuing your goal.
Look, there are times in your life when you are driven to argue vigorously and vehemently for a particular point-of-view that has great meaning to you. At those times it does not matter whether you are speaking to one person or a room full of people. It also does not matter how you look or sound. You become like a world class soccer player, running toward the net – the goal – at the end of the field, dodging competitors and any other obstacles in your way, vigorously presenting or defending your argument and avoiding or tackling that which gets in your way. As a public speaker you must do the same; you must keep moving toward your outcome with your eye fixed firmly on the goal. Being outwardly directed and fully committed will prevent you from being self-conscious and will ground you in the pursuit of something you yourself have determined as having value.
Tip #2 – Make it personally engaging.
Besides the fact that making what you say engaging to yourself personally will help you accomplish all that I laid out in Tip #1, the fact of the matter is that you can’t possibly expect anyone to be invested in what you are saying if you are not invested in what you are saying. I realize that you may be given a topic at work or school that holds little interest to you and then asked to make some presentation or power point about it to a group of people. You might say, “I couldn’t care less about this, and there is no way to make it interesting to me or anyone else.” I would argue that there is, indeed, a way to find an angle that is interesting to you, and it is incumbent upon you to find it, just like it is incumbent upon an actor to justify the blocking they’ve been given by their director even if that blocking seems to make no sense. The bottom line is only you can bore yourself, so don’t bore yourself. Then your audience won’t be bored either.
Tip #3 – Be well prepared by practicing, practicing, practicing.
Rehearsals for a show serve several important functions not the least of which is providing the opportunity for everyone to get comfortable and familiar with the words, the actions, and the staging of the script. By the time there is an audience or camera attending on the work, the actors should feel totally confident about what, when, where, and why they say the things they say. The same should be true for anyone speaking in front of a group. There are few things in life you have total control over, but being prepared with your material is one of those things, and I promise you that your level of comfort with the material – even if you intend to read every word of it – directly correlates to your ability to be relaxed, available, and present in each moment of the speech, so practice and be prepared.
Tip #4 – Your audience is on your side, although what other people think of you is none of your business!
Many people approach the podium thinking, “It’s me vs. them,” thereby making the already daunting task of giving a speech or presentation even scarier. Without thinking about it, they believe that they and their audience are adversaries, and the judgmental group they are facing is waiting for them to fail, or worse, mocking them every step of the way. I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. To begin with, either by choice or mandate the audience is there, and since they are there, they most definitely would prefer to be engaged by what you have to say than not. In fact, they want you to be interesting, comfortable, and confident at least as much as you do. Have you ever listened to someone speak who is nervous, uncomfortable and failing at the task? It’s painful to watch, and all you want is for it to end so you can get away. Quickly! So know that your audience is on your side and be buoyed by that. But let me add this: On stage, at a podium, and in life what other people think of you is none of your business, so stay out of it, and focus on the task at hand.
For most people the only thing that stands in the way of their being successful and confident speakers is themselves, so get out of your way. Be prepared, focus on an important and meaningful outcome that you have set for yourself, and keep your attention on the people who have come to listen and who are cheering you on. Then head to the pub afterwards to cheer yourself on and celebrate your success.
If you need more help, I encourage you to be in touch with me directly to schedule private in-person or Skype coaching that will quickly yield great results.