Thursday, February 27, 2014

Public Speaking: Advice From a Nervous Wreck

Kasey Prater, Marketing Intern 

Chances are you have had to give a speech or presentation in the past or will in the future. For many people, including myself, public speaking is a huge fear.  If you’re like me, the first week of classes is a time for organizing your planner in preparation for the semester’s course load. It is also a time where I panic and scan through the syllabus for any sort of public speaking or presentation assignments. Why? Because I loathe public speaking. It makes me clammy even thinking about speaking in front of a class. Luckily for many others, and myself, public speaking is a learnable skill that gets easier with practice. Below are some tips that I have found to be extremely helpful in making me become a more confident public speaker and presenter. 

Know your material
Nothing helps ease the fear of public speaking more than really knowing the content of what you’re about to present. Don’t just memorize words and facts. Reciting a blurb of stuff you don’t really know about can be a drag for your audience. Plus, you never know when you could get sidetracked and completely forget what you were supposed to say next. Instead, make sure that you actually understand the material. I have found it helpful to write key points on a notecard and try to hit those throughout the presentation. The more you know about the subject the more able you are to thoroughly answer any questions your audience may have.

When it comes to public speaking, practice truly makes perfect. I cannot tell you how many times I have even been too embarrassed to practice by myself. So when it came time for the presentation, I actually was really unprepared but still thought I could just go with it and nail it. I now know how silly that was for me to do. No matter how well you have learned the material, if you are presenting something for the first time, it is clear that you have not practiced. As soon as you know you are going to be delivering a presentation or speech, start preparing and creating it because the sooner you get it together, the more time you will have to run through it. Practice whenever and wherever you can—in front of the mirror, with a friend or with a group of friends. If possible you should practice in the classroom that you will be giving the presentation in.

Another option is to record yourself presenting, this is especially helpful if there is a time limit. I know watching yourself give a speech may seem strange at first, but it lets you see what you do well and what you need to improve upon. With practice, you will be a more poised, compelling speaker.

Think Positively
I am a well-known Debbie Downer, so it is in my nature to think the absolute worst before giving a presentation. In the past, when I was waiting to give a presentation, I would replay my biggest fears in my mind—like tensing up and freezing in the middle of my speech—basically self-sabotaging. I freaked myself out and my speech suffered because of it. Now, I encourage myself as much as I can before any presentation that I give.

Dressing for success can also majorly boost your positivity and self-confidence. If you feel confident in your appearance it will shine through in your speech. I have found it helpful to dress as professional as you need to be while still being comfortable. Nothing is worse than standing in front of an audience and pulling on your clothes because you’re uncomfortable. Wearing something light and breathable makes me feel more relaxed and speech ready.

Positive thinking makes a huge difference in not only your performance but also your confidence.  Right before your speech, visualize yourself giving a successful presentation.  Use affirmations like “I am going to do well” to increase your confidence and lessen your nerves. 

Coping with Nerves
Just thinking about public speaking could make me nervous. Embarrassingly, I have even blacked out from anxiety while giving a presentation. Or, more often, I get up there and do my thing, and then once I finish presenting, I have no recollection of the whole thing. Most of my worries about public speaking come from the fear of freezing up and forgetting what I need to say. The best thing you can do to lessen your nerves is to stop thinking about yourself, your fear and your anxiety. Rather, you should focus on the audience. Remember that you are presenting to educate or help them in some way, and that your message is more important than your fear. 

Before your presentation, try taking some deep breathes to calm yourself down. Take several deep breaths in through your nose, holding each for a couple seconds and slowly let them out through your mouth. This will help you become more relaxed and thus ready to perform. Try to get to your presentation early so you have time to get settled and get comfortable. 

If the crowd is what intimidates you, try thinking of your presentation as a conversation you’re having with an individual. Focus in on one welcoming face at a time. It helps me to look at foreheads rather than make direct eye contact. Too much direct eye contact can make some people feel uncomfortable. If that doesn’t work for you, you can try focusing on the back of the rooming, moving your gaze around. 

The more experience you have with speaking in public, the better you will become. It is something that I continue to work at. Next time you have a speech or presentation, think about these little steps to improve your communication.

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