The material in this post is adapted from my forthcoming book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence(Penguin Random House, January 2017).
Public speaking for many people is the single most difficult task in their professional lives. It’s something people supposedly even fear more than death, causing the comedian Jerry Seinfeld to joke that people would then rather die than give the eulogy at their funeral.
Tip 1: Locate the source of your anxiety and find ways to combat it.
If your fear is… that you won’t know anyone:
Come early to meet people and build a quick rapport
If your fear is… that you’ll forget your content:
Try this: Practice, practice, practice, and also create slides that will guide you through your talk
If your fear is… that your presentation is no good:
Try this: Get feedback from trusted (and honest) colleagues
The point is to become a problem solver to reduce anxiety and increase the odds of success.
Tip 2: Start off with a bang.
Beginnings are critical, especially with public speaking. Right away answer that elusive “so what?” question for your audience: What should we care about your topic? What can it teach us? Why is it important? Knowing you have a solid intro will ease your nerves.
Tip 3: Slow down.
When we’re nervous, we all have the tendency to speak quickly, but that’s the exact opposite of what you want to do when speaking to a crowd. Slow down. Let the audience hang on your every word. Pause for effect.
Tip 4: Be yourself.
If you’re an inexperienced speaker, you may think you need to play the role of an “expert” – after all, no one wants to listen to a novice speaker like you. But that’s the exact wrong thing to do when speaking to a crowd. You need to come across as genuine and authentic. Just be you.
Tip 5: Make eye contact.
As a speaker, you want to engage with your audience – make a connection. And one of the very best ways is to make eye contact. Pick a few different friendly faces and give your speech to them. Pretend they are old friends you’re updating on your work. It will feel more personal to everyone in the room.
Public speaking isn’t easy. But with these tips — and plenty of practice, you’ll turn it from something you fear to something you enjoy (or at least tolerate).