I started my public-speaking career as a nervous introvert with absolutely no prior experience. My first live presentation was on a Disney Cruise ship in a theater that held 800 guests (and one panic-stricken presenter). I vividly recall trying to convince other crew members to push me down the steps because I was sure that if I had a broken leg or twisted ankle, they couldn’t make me do it. In hindsight, I can see how silly that was.
They would definitely have still made me do it.
I honestly remember very little about that first presentation. I seem to have blocked the entire memory. But I do remember the overwhelming fear before I started talking, and the intense relief when I was done. Clearly, public speaking was not a natural talent for me.
So, that is why you can be sure that when I say that you can overcome your fear and become not just a competent speaker, but an excellent one, no matter who you are, it’s absolutely true. If I can do it, you can definitely do it.
There are some tricks and techniques I learned over the years that made the entire process easier, and less stressful, that you can use to make public speaking an (almost) enjoyable experience.
They say that knowledge is power, but I would suggest that knowledge is confidence. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Know Your Material
The biggest fear hurdle for most people is that they will forget what they were supposed to say. So, write it out, practice it, write it out again in bullet points, practice it, write it out again in even shorter form, practice and repeat. You want to keep doing this until you have just two or three words, per bullet point, that will guide you through your entire presentation.
2. Know Your Venue
The unknown is scary. The more you know, the better prepared you will feel. Find out as much as you can about the venue before the speaking date. Check out pictures of the room, see if there are steps up to the stage or a podium for your notes. It helps you be prepared and take away some of that anxiety.
3. Know Who Will Introduce You and How
There’s nothing that will throw you off your game faster than having to get up on stage after someone has given the wrong information about you or what you are going to speak about. It can send your entire presentation and your confidence off the rails. So be sure to clarify who will be introducing you and give the person accurate notes about how to introduce what you are talking about and any details to share about you, including how to pronounce your name, if it’s tricky.
4. Know Your Audience
This one is key to delivering a great presentation. Even if the material you share is basically the same each time, knowing who you are speaking to allows you to add details to help you connect with them and remove any information or references that may not be appropriate for that particular group. It also helps you create a relationship with the crowd, which feeds energy back to you and keeps your performance on point.
5. Visualize Your Performance
Elite athletes visualize their race or event from start to finish, hundreds of times before a competition. Walking through the entire routine or event helps them build their confidence, foresee possible issues and convince their mind that when they walk into the real competition, the win is almost guaranteed. After all, as far as their brain knows, they have done it a thousand times before. The same is true for you and your presentation. Imagine yourself walking up on the stage, arranging your notes, taking the microphone, and thanking the host and the audience for the warm welcome. Imagine every step of the way from start to finish. Visualize the receptive audience, the applause, and the confidence you will have as you speak to the smiling crowd.
Related: How to Polish Your Public Speaking
6. Time It
Make sure you know exactly how long your presentation will be. Speakers generally have a specific time allotted, and going a bit short isn’t generally a problem, but you don’t want to get halfway through your presentation to find you are almost out of time. That leaves you either awkwardly ending without following the full arc of your story or quickly trying to figure out how to summarize the last half of your presentation in the time you have left. So, do everyone a favor, grab a timer and stand up and say it aloud, as if you were really presenting to an audience. We speak much slower than we read, so if you time yourself reading it without saying it aloud, it will be much shorter than the actual live presentation will be.
7. Find a Friendly Face
This trick was always my secret weapon. I would arrive at my presentations 15 minutes early so I could walk down in front of the stage and chat with some of the guests seated there. The idea is to build a connection and create a few raving fans in the front row so that when you get up on stage and the nerves hit, you have a few groups of people to focus on that are smiling at you and cheering you on. It boosts your confidence and helps you tune out the rest of the crowd if you get overwhelmed.
8. No Matter What Happens, It’s Over in X Minutes
This is the other secret weapon for those times when it really goes wrong. Just keep going, carry on and no matter what happens, at the end of your time period, it is done. It’s over. You could just stand there and say nothing for 15 minutes (not that I recommend that), but at the end of the 15 minutes, it would be over. I used this strategy more times than I would like to admit, especially in the beginning.
9. Remember No One Probably Noticed That Little Slip but You
You know the material—the order you are supposed to present it in and which word you meant to use just then—but the audience doesn’t. So just keep going; don’t give that mistake another thought. If you keep thinking about that slip-up, you will be distracted and make more mistakes as you move through the talk. Just let it go and move on.
10. Record Yourself
It’s probably going to be hard to watch, and I promise it never gets easier, for most of us. But it’s incredibly useful for improving your performance. We all have verbal tics that we don’t even realize we have, like um’s and ah’s or other filler words we use in a repetitive manner. We also have gestures, movements, and physical tics that will distract your audience. The best way to catch and fix your unique verbal and physical tics is to record yourself presenting, then watch it back to see what you can catch and improve. It will also help you fix parts of your presentation that might not be clear or flow properly. Watching yourself, as your audience will observe you, is one of the best ways to improve both your presentation skills and your material, at the same time.
Perhaps the most important tip of all is to just start doing it. The best way to improve at public speaking is to get some experience and speak in front of people. So, take the opportunities whenever they arise and push yourself beyond what is comfortable in order to grow your skills.
This is your chance to share your stories and grow your audience by mastering a skill that many people won’t even attempt. The more you do it, the better you will get, so get your story prepared and then get out there and practice.
You already have everything you need to become a compelling speaker, so get started today. Make a plan to start putting together your first presentation. The world needs what you have to share, and no one can tell your stories as you can.