I’m pretty pumped up to let you know that I have the pleasure of speaking at the Digital Marketing Strategies Conference coming up on May 23, 2016 in Napa Valley, California.
While I’m excited for the opportunity to do some public speaking, I have to admit that I’ve been feeling a little rusty as it’s almost been a year since the last time I presented to an audience.
Between you and me, I’m starting feeling a little anxious about the whole thing. It’s not because I’m afraid of crowds or don’t know what I’m doing. It’s just natural for a speaker to experience some anxiety prior to giving a presentation.
When I talk about anxiety in public speaking, there two different types:
The first is the anxiety of putting together a well rounded presentation that engages, educates and entertains an audience. This makes sense because you want to give a great presentation which represents yourself and/or the company you are presenting on behalf of.
For me this type of anxiety usually kicks in 2-3 months before the speaking engagement, and then quickly goes away as I begin working in earnest on my presentation.
The second form of anxiety shows up the hours and minutes prior to taking the stage to address the audience.
While it can seem daunting and even a little scary, this type of anxiety is perfectly normal. Ask any musician or professional athlete, and they’ll tell you that they still get butterflies before each performance.
Be wary though. Anxiety is normal, but if you let it take control of you it can affect the quality of your presentation.
While I’ve had the opportunity to speak at some great automotive conferences, by no means do I consider myself a professional speaker. However over the past couple of years I have learned how to manage (and even reduce!) my anxiety when it comes to public speaking.
The tips I’m going to share with you here will help your manage both types of anxiety so you can give a killer presentation that gets you invited to speak again.
I’ve broken up these tips into two sections that represent the two different types of anxiety associated with public speaking – crafting your presentation and giving your presentation.
So are you ready to find out how reduce your anxiety associated with public speaking? All right, let’s do this!
Crafting Your Presentation
When you are invited to speak at a conference, the initial excitement of taking the stage to share your ideas can often be replaced by anxiety rather quickly.
Building a quality presentation takes time and effort, and here’s what I’ve found that works for me when it comes to putting together my presentation
Give yourself plenty of time
I tend to start putting my presentation together 3 months before the event. The first month I just loosely collect my thoughts, ideas, images, links, etc in an Evernote doc.
And then two months before the event, I begin to assemble my presentation in earnest. I give myself a month to get the first draft together, which will then leave me one month to tweak as needed and practice, practice, practice.
Open up with a story – not your bio
How many times have you been to a conference and a speaker takes the stage only to open up by giving you a filibuster of a bio?
Not to make you nervous (the exact opposite of what this blog post is intended to do) but the audience will decide in the the first 7 minutes of your presentation if you’re worth tuning in to or if they are just going to play on their phone for the next 35 minutes.
I say ditch the bio. Your content is either going to stand on it’s own merit – or it won’t – regardless of what your professional background is.
Instead, I suggest you open your session with a personal story. It can be related to the topic you’re speaking on or not.
When I spoke at Canadian Digital Dealer about blogging in the dealership, I opened my presentation with a story that talked about how even though I was born in Michigan, I feel like I’m practically Canadian.
After weaving a tale only those of the maple leaf persuasion could appreciate, I had the full attention of the 300 member audience primed to consume the content I was presenting.
Of course the other benefit to telling a story is that it will let you work out any early butterflies so that when you are ready to dive into your presentation you’re feeling good and ready to rock!
The first 7 minutes are the most important
A common form of anxiety when it comes to public speaking is worrying that you’ll get lost at some point in time during your presentation and make a fool of yourself (I can’t be the only one who worries about that, right? RIGHT?!)
Because the audience you’re presenting to is going to decide whether or not they like you in the first 7 minutes of your presentation, that means the first 7 minutes are the most important part of your presentation.
You have to OWN those 7 minutes.
In my experience if I practice my whole presentation, but focus on the first 7 minutes, the rest of the content flows rather smoothly.
After all, you are the subject matter expert of the topic you’re presenting on. So it’s not like you have to memorize a script for a theater production that you’re totally unfamiliar with.
Nothing instills confidence more than knowing you know those first 7 minutes inside and out. Prepare properly and you’ll have the confidence to continue on to give a killer presentation!
Giving an Anxiety-Free Presentation
So you gave yourself plenty of time to craft your presentation. You’ve practiced over and over again. You totally own the first 7 minutes and are feeling good.
Until the day before you go on stage.
Once again, this type of speaking anxiety is perfectly normal. Here is what I do prior to giving a presentation to relieve any anxiety I might be feeling.
Practice your presentation two more times
Before I take the stage to give my presentation, I practice it two more times.
Once the night before as the last thing I do before I go to bed (at a reasonable hour of course) and then one more time in the morning right after I wake up and have a cup of coffee.
That’s it. For the rest of the day I just try to enjoy myself, interact with my peers and colleagues, and take in the other presentations until it’s my time to shine.
Interact with your audience before going on stage
This is a tip I picked up from Mat Koenig prior to my first “big deal” speaking session at the DrivingSales Executive Summit.
After chatting with Mat and mentioning I was a tad nervous about my upcoming session, he shared with me that he likes to personally interact with his audience before it’s his time to speak.
He said look to quickly greet some people you know and then take a few seconds to chat with some people you don’t know.
This doesn’t have to be anything major, just “hey, thanks for coming” and “hey, nice to see you!”
I tried this before I went on and it worked fantastically so I’ve been doing it ever since.
Doing this exercise helps you connect with your audience prior to going on stage, ultimately alleviating some of the anxiety you have from speaking to an audience of mostly strangers.
The weirdest pre-show ritual ever, but it works!
Ok, this last tip to reduce your public speaking anxiety is definitely weird, but I’m telling you it works. Every time!
A few weeks before I gave my Blog to the Future presentation at DSES, I was searching for some ways to reduce my anxiety prior to giving my presentation (much like you are now).
In my search, I ran across an article titled something like Public Speaking Tips From a Standup Comedian. Being a guy who thinks he is pretty funny (but probably isn’t that funny), this article was right up my alley.
In that blog post (which for the life of me I can’t find now to link to) one of the things this comedian who wrote the article talked about was his ritual prior to going on stage.
It goes something like this…
In the 10 minutes or so before going on, he said he paces the green room or briskly walks up and down the hall of the conference center.
While doing this, he describes out loud the various items and objects he sees – green chair, 3 light bulbs, red exit sign, dude wearing brown shoes – as rapidly as possible.
At the same time he’s pumping himself up by listening to hard driving music on his headphones.
Why does he do this? Because he said it sharpened up his mind right before going on stage. In the world of comedy (especially improv comedy) you have to be of nimble tongue and be able to quickly react to any unplanned situation.
Willing to try just about anything, I gave it a shot in the minutes before giving my presentation at DSES.
So picture this.
There I am, fast-walking down the hallways of the beautiful Bellagio, saying out loud all of the objects I could see as quickly as I could all while jamming out to Addicted to That Rush by Mr. Big – you can only imagine I was quite a sight (Just ask Jeff Kershner, I bumped into him in the hallway mid-ritual. #Awkward)
But you can’t be self conscious about this. After all you’re about to present to a rather sizable crowd, all with eyes on you. What does it matter if you get a few sideways glances from strangers as you stroll around like a crazy person muttering random objects to yourself while rocking out to late 80’s hair band jams?
I can tell you that this ritual works for me and I do it before every speaking engagement. It helps relieve any of the last bits of anxiety or stress, and I feel pumped up right before I go on.
So there you go, 6 public speaking tips that I guarantee will reduce your anxiety prior to your next (or very first) speaking engagement.
Do you have any public speaking tips that have worked for you? Share them with me in the comments section below. Thanks!