For most people, the prospect of standing up to speak in front of a large group of people isn't a pleasant one. We've all been there.
The sweaty palms. That weird, shivery feeling.
The waves of nausea.
The tight chest. The shallow breathing. The inability to spit out a perfectly simple sentence.
The feeling that every move you make is being scrutinized, and that everyone there can just tell how nervous you are, and they're all quietly judging you.
(Can you tell I don't enjoy public speaking?)
Due to the nature of my career, I've had to do a lot more public speaking than I'd like. When I was first starting out, these public speaking events would make me miserable for days, sometimes even weeks, before they took place. I would fret and worry, practice and memorize.
It somehow seemed that no matter how I said what I wanted to say, it sounded stupid, unprofessional, and bland.
By the time I got up on the platform, I was so nervous that I could hardly look at any anyone, I blanked on what I wanted to say, and my voice shook.
And by the time it was over, I felt like I'd just had a close shave with death. Shaky and light-headed, I was glad to have gotten out alive.
If you're a regular public speaker, this is no way to live your life. As public speaking was going to be a regular part of my work life, I realized that I had to get used to it if I didn't want to be an emotional wreck for the rest of my career. A psychologist who is an emotional wreck is not, after all, very confidence-inspiring.
So here are my top 5 tips for public speaking successfully (i.e., without freaking out).
1. Do it more.
Nothing is easy at first.
The more you do something, the easier it gets, and the more comfortable you feel doing it. So although your instinct is probably to avoid speaking publicly unless necessary, make it a point to practice.
Take any opportunity you can get to do it. The more you do that, the better you'll feel when your more important public speaking events come up.
2. Don't expect to be that good at it.
This is something you happen not to be good at, so don't go in expecting to be good.
Allow yourself to be imperfect.
Mistakes are okay. Forgetting what you were going to say is okay. Back-tracking to points you've missed is okay, if they need to be made. And it's also okay not to backtrack if they're not really that important.
Not holding yourself to a standard of perfection will go a long way in helping you feel more relaxed and calm during your talk. And a relaxed speaker is a better speaker.
3. Realize that it's not the most important thing about you.
Of course, you know that logically, but when you're up there, it really can seem like the defining moment of your existence. Just keep reminding yourself that it's not.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with nerves, remember that there are many other things more important in your life than this talk. Think about your loved ones, or your pets. Think about the things you've accomplished, and the things you're good at. Think about all the things you enjoy.
This talk will end soon, and you'll still be you.
4. Look at people and smile.
This one is really hard, especially if you're not feeling confident.
Looking someone in the eye can be intimidating at the best of times, and it certainly is when all they eyeballs in the room are on you.
But you'll find that most people don't actually want you to feel nervous or bad, and if you make eye contact with someone in your audience, and smile, 9 times out of 10 they'll smile back.
This is immensely comforting. It makes you feel less isolated and intimidated. So lift those lids and smile at your audience. You'll feel better, and it'll look more natural, too.
5. Avoid memorizing or just reading.
Yes, I know this is exactly what your grade 6 teacher put on her speech marking rubric, but she had a point then, and it still stands now.
People aren't waiting for you to screw up your wording, because they don't know exactly what words you're planning to say.
Remember the main points you want to make, and the order you want to make them in, and just talk. Notes and cue cards are fine, just don't keep your eyes glued to them. You'll feel more relaxed if you treat it like a conversation.