It was many many moons ago, when I had my first public speaking gig. It was a teaching class on foreign exchange products and derivatives – my daily routine stuff at that time. I am usually a chatty person but the time I stood on dais and tried to utter a few words – I couldn’t hear myself. Incidentally the class also didn’t hear anything.
The feeling is yet not gone and while I had many more public speaking opportunities and they were not as scary yet every time I have to speak, there are still butterflies (not the good ones) in my gut . If you are like me, this article may help you.
Prepare your content
For the planned public speaking event – PREPARE. For every event known in advance, I have a sheet of word by word speech that I am going to give. And almost always – I am off script. But there is a more prepared and natural speech than a completely natural speech. Some of the well known speakers are known to rehearse their entire speech many time before setting foot on stage. One of my lecturer used to write even his jokes along with the timing of joke in lecture and rehearse them before starting the class. This was one of the most hilarious, entertaining and easy to understand ECONOMICS class I have ever been to. So prepare, prepare and prepare. There is no such thing as over-preparation.
Before the event, make sure you relax. Experiment and understand what works for you. For me, smiling and listening to a peppy song works usually. Your body gives signals to your brain and simply smiling takes away a lot of pressure off me. By the way, this is my biggest secret – Smile and the world around you usually calms down.
Also smile is infectious. Even if you are nervous as hell, smiling helps you get the audience on your side. How can anyone not like a smiling face.
Acknowledge your Anxiety
Everyone is anxious at the stage. It doesn’t matter whether it is your first time or hundredth. Every time you want the audience to love you, to accept what you are saying and to admire how good a speaker you are. Every time you are not sure if you will not say something stupid. Understand that this is natural. Accepting anxiety takes away its power to make us even more nervous. You may like to check this Stanford video to practice.
Go with the flow
* Sure you prepared and there was a joke between first paragraph and second and you missed it. Its okay. Stay in the flow.
* You thought xyz, audience asked z while you are still at x. Ask for time or change the flow. Be accepting.
* You want to say something but words are not coming out of your mouth. There is a severe stomach pain or ear pain or some other thing which is really not the pain but a fear that you will not be able to speak properly.
My personal practice to go with the flow is – Ignoring the audience – for first few minutes. For me, once I have started the task becomes easier. So for initial few moments, I ignore that there are too many people in the room or the last speaker was phenomenal and concentrate on speaking the first few lines. The rest of it flows naturally.
These are some of things that help me in speaking to a large audience.