Best public speaking tip: be your authentic self.
Presenting to a group–love it or hate it? I personally love it, and am definitely an extrovert who enjoys sharing stories, ideas, jokes, as well as, let's face it, the limelight. My mom claims I was painfully shy when I was young. Not sure what happened, but the timid ship certainly sailed a few decades ago.
There are may books, articles, webinars, and audios on how to give great presentations. My tips are certainly not exhaustive, but they may offer some practical and out-of-the-box advice to those who are less comfortable presenting. So here goes…
1. Most importantly, be your authentic self. Connect with your passion and speak from the heart. Ask yourself why this is important and come from there. People will hear your enthusiasm and connect with the energy you put out. You've heard the experts say "they won't remember what you said, they'll remember how you made them feel," right? They weren't lying.
2. Clarify to yourself two or three main points of communication. Actually write out what you want the audience to walk away having- and make it's a very short list. Details can be disseminated later. Be clear in your message and know that sometimes less is more. I recently attended an incredibly inspiring workshop in NY by a lecturer from Stanford Graduate School of Business entitled "How to be a Thought Leader." She had a fantastical model and we did some great worksheets. And you know what I took away from the experience? I did leave with a useful worksheet (that’s been sitting in my briefcase where I left it–shhh!), but what I really got was the power of the message and feeling she gave me.
"Wow," I said to myself, "that woman is a Total Badass Thought Leader and she inspired me to just get out there and be a Badass Thought Leader myself!”
She was able to convey in 90 minutes that she believes in me (thank you, Denise Brasseau!) and knows I can do it. Pretty incredible, given that I was in a room full of people and we had never met before. I could have read her book (which I will at some point) or watched a very detailed presentation on thought leadership, but this LadyBoss got me FIRED UP.
3. Do not write a script; rather, create an outline of speaking points and treat it as a conversation. Again, you will be much more relatable if you seem like you are talking to a person vs. “giving a presentation.” People often feel strange talking to a large group in a casual fashion, but again, they want to know YOU. You're not "presenting to them," you’re having a conversation. Even if nobody talks back.
4. Open with a personal story that relates to the subject matter. Oftentimes we think that if we make ourselves vulnerable or talk about personal information, we will appear weak. The opposite is true. Vulnerability and authenticity invite trust and connection. Brené Brown's famous Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is a great watch. If people trust you, they are more likely to respond positively to your message and get on board.
5. Practice! Film yourself presenting, even if it’s just a five minute clip. It’s amazing what you can discover (over usage of the word “um,” an awkward hand gesture, etc.) when you see yourself speak. Something I learned when I watched a video of myself speaking is that sometimes I need to slow the heck down. We sometimes feel that we have to fill the space with a word, when in fact a pause is very helpful. Even if you forget what's next, just take a breath. The room might want to breathe too. One of my coaches suggested I always have a few go-to filler phrases at the ready for either coaching sessions or talks. Something like "So what do you think about that?" or "see how this might resonate with what's going on with you right now." (Then–you got it–pause!)
6. Anticipate concerns, objections, and questions, which will alleviate some of your preparation fears. You can address some in your presentation, and leave others for Q&A. Give yourself permission to not have all the answers to questions and practice saying that you will be happy to follow up. And don't apologize for not knowing absolutely everything, as the word "sorry" detracts from your authority and confidence. You can know 90% of a topic and still be an expert. It's all about being your confident inner leader self.
7. Experiment with different personas! Some of the conditions required for neuroplasticity are laughter, fun, discomfort, and trying something new. Imagine that you are an actor in a play who just LOVES presenting. Give yourself a superhero name and practice the presentation as him/her. Practice the speech with a British accent (that always makes it more fun!) Trying out new perspectives (especially if you incorporate humor) will take you out of the fear and into the play zone. I once had a client who was so nervous and awkward about a presentation that she would just freeze up when she started. I had her present the first five minutes of the speech in an exaggerated British accent, and then as an LA Valley girl. OK, fine, we were laughing so hard that we also did a Borat imitation, but I swear that was it. Again, get out of your head and have some fun, and your brain, body and energy will realize that it's not so scary after all.
8. Lastly, develop a pre-game mindfulness routine that gets you in the zone. "Which zone?" you ask. Great question: the zone of your Inner leader, your Best Self, or whatever you call YOU at your most empowered. This could be a 3-minute meditation where you just breathe and imagine a time when you had a big success, a power pose to allow you to feel confident and strong, or even a 5 minute dance party in the bathroom to your favorite song. Cognitive behavioral therapy has taught us that using our thoughts and actions is not nearly as powerful as also incorporating our heart (emotions/feelings). When we connect with our best selves, in a visceral fashion, that is when transformative change can occur. If we truly FEEL the power, the thoughts, words and actions that come from that place will be confident, clear and strong. See this tip on how to become a better small business speaker from myself as well as tips from other experts in this article in NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business).
I said I'd only give eight, but I want to end with this; have fun! The audience has a wonderful opportunity to meet you and hear from you about something you are passionate about. Yay! They are so lucky.