Preparing for your big speech or presentation is akin to prepping for the big game. It requires practice, situational awareness and studying your opponent (audience, in the case of public speaking). While there are courses which teach people how to improve their public speaking skills, I don’t think they’re necessary. In fact, if you can engage your friends in conversation, you know what to do…
When presenting, you’re speaking to people, and they merely want to be entertained, engaged and, most importantly, learn something new. If you can provide those three things in your speech, you win. Simple as that.
While I have no formal ‘public speaking training,’ I get results. My ability to present a story or company has closed deals, built relationships and opened new doors throughout my career. That said, it didn’t come naturally for me. As a kid, I was very shy. Show and tell was a nerve-racking experience if you can believe it. I didn’t like the spotlight. Matter of fact, I still don’t, but I’m now comfortable if it’s on me. And that’s because I know sharing my experiences and knowledge with others is valuable.
I’ve been on both sides of the public speaking spectrum, many times. I’ve pitched, spoken at conferences and also been pitched. I’ve attended many phenomenal conferences with famous people and renowned entrepreneurs. I’ve carefully paid attention to audience reactions when I threw new tweaks into my spiel; and also taken extensive mental notes on the nuances of great orators. And I’ve been blessed to have partnered on a venture with probably the second best presenter I’ve ever seen – second only to Steve Jobs. I learned a ton from him on how to craft a smooth and natural pitch, even if the topic is complex.
The truth is, everyone gets a little nervous before giving a speech. Look at Elon Musk. The guy is a genius but, admittedly, he isn’t the best public speaker. He’s not comfortable on stage – you can see it. But he finds a way to make it work, and his shyness suits his style of delivery. And, with practice, he’s gotten much better compared to Tesla’s early years. The more you get out in front of an audience, the better you too will become. For this blog entry, I’m going to share some tips on how to calm your nerves and deliver a great public speech.
Realize your audience wants you to do well: Like you, most of your audience is scared of public speaking. The fact that you’re on stage makes them admire you. The people in your audience, no matter if it is a small boardroom pitch or a massive theater address, all want you to do well. Think about it: Why else would they be there? They want to learn something and see you do well while being entertained. No one wants to see another person choke on their big day. It’s not in our nature. The audience is rooting for you, always remember that.
The first 15 seconds are crucial: Recognize that you need to captivate your audience right away. If you do that, the rest of the speech will flow like a river. Once the crowd is engaged, which you’ll be able to see just by looking at their faces, your confidence will skyrocket, and your delivery will be much smoother.
So how do you win the first 15 seconds? Share the second most exciting thing about your pitch in that time… We typically have between three and six exciting punch lines (most interesting facts relating to our pitch). Use your second best in the first 15 seconds and the audience will hang on your every word for the next two minutes (at which point, repeat the process to buy another two minutes).
Study your material like a maniac: As a young boy, Winston Churchill had a speech impediment. As an adult, he became one of the greatest orators of all time. How? He practiced and rehearsed his speeches to a point of obsession. Whether he was lying in bed, soaking in the bathtub or going for a walk by his favourite pond, Churchill would rehearse his speeches days in advance so not to have to read from his notes. A true professional.
The first time I gave a big speech, I went into Churchill mode. No kidding, I prepared for about five days, doing nothing else in that time. I shut down to the outside world and obsessed over that presentation, focusing on every detail in the powerpoint. I must have rehearsed the 10-minute speech 500 times that week. While I don’t prepare like that anymore for obvious reasons, it conquered my fear of public speaking…
Going into that presentation knowing I was the foremost authority on the subject matter because I had studied it so thoroughly and practically memorized my speech, paved the way for a solid performance. I even practiced answering all the objections I anticipated from the audience (it was a Q&A format after the presentation). Preparation is key for confidence.
Utilize technology and get the right tools for the job: There are so many great presentation applications online; find one that works for you. Do your homework and get comfortable with a visual aid program. Presenting without visuals in 2017 is like taking a Honda Civic to an F1 race. Makes no sense. Visuals keep the audience engaged and, just as important, keep you on point.
One piece of technology that has improved my presentations is ‘the clicker.’ It allows me to change from slide to slide during my speech with the click of a button. By using it, I can move around during my presentation; and motion creates emotion.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a presentation and cringed when I saw the presenter look for his arrow button on his laptop to get to the next slide. It’s just unpolished, and it kills rhythm. A clicker solves that problem. They cost about $100. Buy one.
Also, if you’re using a presentation deck in your speech, have a laptop open on your podium that shows which slide is up on the audience’s screen or the projector, and which slide is coming next. Again, this may sound trivial, but you’d be shocked how many presenters don’t take advantage of this.
Knowing which slide or graphic is coming next in the presentation keeps the message succinct and makes you look like a pro. Transitioning smoothly from topic to topic in a presentation is what separates the pros from the amateurs… Get the right tools for the job!
Breath deep: If you get nervous before public speaking, the most excruciating time is the moment before you are set to deliver that speech. You’re next on the speech docket and the guy before you just delivered an epic presentation. Waiting is the worst. And it is this moment when your fight or flight instincts kick in…
Right at that moment, you need to breath deeply. Breath with your stomach, fill up your lungs with as much air as you can, hold it for four seconds, and slowly control your breath as you exhale. With every breath, expand your stomach as much as you can, and slowly let that air out after holding for four seconds. Do that five times, and your fight of flight instincts will subdue.
Recognize you’re not that important, and neither is your speech: It may sound harsh, but it’s probably true. The reality is, you’re not giving the Presidential State of the Union address with millions of viewers watching on television. Not to diminish your role, but you’re probably speaking to a couple hundred people… don’t get worked up. Don’t make the event bigger in your mind than it really is. Be cool.
As entrepreneurs, we must routinely get out of our comfort zone. It’s the only way we grow. And the more successful you become as an entrepreneur, the more invitations you’ll get to give speeches or presentations. Revel in these moments. Add public speaking to your repertoire of entrepreneurial skills. Being able to command the attention of a room is a cherished skill to have, one you only attain with practice. Be prepared to make mistakes, and know that the audience is very forgiving. If you get lost in your presentation, pause, find your place, and resume. At the time, you may think it was a huge blunder, but the reality is no one will remember it in 20 minutes. Step out on the stage.
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