Let’s face it – everyone gets nervous speaking in public. If people say they don’t, they’re probably lying. That said, you can’t use fear as a crutch if you want to command the room. Whether you’re giving a presentation, a toast or a speech, you need to push past your anxiety. You can do it if you follow the right steps, both before and during your talk.
First, you need to put in the right amount of preparation time, using the rule of eight. If you’re speaking for five minutes, you should spend 40 minutes polishing your words, creating segues and learning the material. If you’re speaking for 10 minutes, you need to devote 80 minutes to prep, and so on. Frankly, if you’re unwilling to sacrifice this advance time, you’ll never reach your full potential as a speaker.
The second step – by far the easiest – is to exercise some nutritional discipline before you speak. Avoid drinking highly-acidic juices, soda or dairy products that upset your stomach. Drink water instead. You’ll stay hydrated and you’ll find you’re not licking your lips for moisture as you talk.
Third, practice ratcheting up your energy level. Your normal conversational tone and cadence will sound flat to an audience, so you need to add some intensity to your delivery. You can find the right pacing and inflection by recording yourself for about 30 seconds. Just take your smartphone, prop it up on a podium or dresser, and push record. You’ll see a drastic improvement in the energy of your delivery after just a few recordings, play-backs and adjustments.
In step number four, you need to make sure you connect with your audience in the first 15-30 seconds of your talk. You can do this simply by asking a question, making a joke or promising a later payoff like a prize. People have very short attention spans, so if you lose them early, they’re not coming back.
Fifth, remember that “um” is better than boring. This means it’s preferable to have a few “ums” in your speech than to read off a piece of paper. Reading kills flow. Over time, you can learn to weed out your stumbles by using connecting words and phrases like “so” and “by the way.”
Another step to take – number six – is to include in your talk a story that fits with the moment. For example, if you’re pitching ideas to a client, you want to trigger competence, so a case study could work. If you’re trying to motivate your sales team, something inspirational is the way to go. Stories don’t have to be just about business – they can be about sports, culture or family life, too.
Finally, step seven will help you to be a good closer. Be sure you always leave your audience with a challenge. Ask them to do something specific, take action, or embrace change – this is how you become viewed as a thought leader. Your goal is to be memorable and keep the crowd thinking long after you’ve left the stage. Resolve now to never let someone upstage you. Be the one to command the room and you’ll inevitably enjoy success.