Some of my most haunting memories revolve around three things: quarter-sized spiders from my childhood trips to Mexico, sleeping through my morning alarm, and speaking in front of a large group of strangers. And although I learned early on that some of these fears could be controlled by simply squashing the little bastards that crossed my path and scheduling my phone to go off every 2 minutes until I physically got up, it took some (embarrassing) long years before I learned how to control my fear of public speaking.
Whenever I think back to my middle school years I can almost feel myself back amongst the sea of bobbing prepubescent heads: a little girl short, plump, and overly anxious for anyone who is yet to hit her tweens.
I can see myself, leg shaking as I waited for the teacher to announce whether we would be presenting alphabetically, or if she would be picking at random (like the she-devil that she was…sorry Ms. Devlin). The longer I waited the more queasy my stomach became. Palms sweaty, cheeks flushed. By the time I was up I could almost swear my pits had left a mark so noticeable on my white uniform blouse that I walked up to the front of the room stiff as a needle, pressing the insides of my arms to my body as close as I could in order to conceal the marks. You can imagine how I looked as I tried to point at a specific point in my Science Fair Board without moving my shoulder blades (a constipated robot maybe?).
Life was tough man.
But as tough as it may be for some, we’ve all done it at some point. And we all hold a future that holds plenty more to come. Whether that be in the form of class projects, pitch proposals, or bridesmaid wedding speeches, being able to get in front of a crowd is a particularly good skill to carry with you throughout life.
Maybe, like me, your experience has not always been the best, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Trust me, this is coming from the former class sweatball.
So here are a few tips I’ve learned that can help you take some of the panic out of public speaking.
1. REHEARSE – KNOW YOUR STUFF
With busy schedules we tend to think “Fuck it, I’ll just wing it.” But going in unprepared and hoping for the best will only increase your nerves when your time comes. Write down your information and practice so that you know your major points by heart and can comfortably talk about them. Showing up unprepared can also result in several too many um and ah’s–filler words that can make you look unprofessional while also increasing your time presenting without actually getting information out there.
2. DRESS WELL
You don’t have to dress to the nines, but wearing something that you feel comfortable can make you feel more comfortable when standing in front of an audience. There’s nothing worse than being worried your shirt is see through or that the fly in your jeans is acting out again while all eyes are on you. Don’t add any extra wood to the flames my friend.
3. MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH AUDIENCE MEMBERS INDIVIDUALLY
It’s hard to look at a crowd and imagine that they are all going to witness your failure. A trick that I do to avoid seeing the room as a massive sea pool of people is taking my time to look at individuals in the eye instead of as a big group. It makes it feel like more of a one on one conversation with different people rather than a big public event. It also allows you to connect with your audience, establishing a stronger bond with them than when you simply glaze over them.
There’s a difference between fidgeting and making and putting verbs into action. When talking try to illustrate what you are trying to say in order to keep your audience engaged. Whether these are hand gestures or demonstrating something that involves you walking around the room, it can help you relieve some of those pent up nerves that make your hands shake (remember trying to present with a paper of notes and not being able to hold it still enough to read it?…No? Me either….)
5. BE YOURSELF
It sounds kinda cliche but its gotta be said. Too often people try to force a joke that doesn’t come natural to them and freak out when the audience doesn’t laugh, or try to be overly professional and end up coming off monotone and boring. Show your personality. When in doubt relaxed and natural is always the best way to go.
A lot of people fear public speaking. And the truth is that is a vulnerable position to be in. You are sharing your work, your brain, your creativity to with your peers. In situations like that our minds quickly wander to Did I say the right thing, were they laughing with me or at me, did anyone even hear what I said? Its important to know that a bad presentation is not the end of the world, but learning some tips can definitely make your time in front of a crowd much more pleasant for both you and the audience. Instead of focusing on what they might think of you, focus on knowing your facts and information. This is something you have control of as opposed to the opinions somebody else might form.