Although I was never a Boy Scout, their motto holds especially true when it comes to reducing your public speaking fear. The more you know your material and the more you have rehearsed, the more confident you will be during showtime.
It seems ridiculous now, but I can go back to presentations years ago where my preparation was non-existent or just plain wrong. I essentially reviewed the material but did not even go through a mock presentation. When I say mock, I mean at least verbalize the talk out loud. It helps with inflection and just hearing the sound of your own voice in the moment.
Know Your Material
The first thing you can do is to *really* know the material you are covering during the talk. Knowing your material inside and out will give you extra confidence. Spend some extra time understanding, in depth, each piece of the talk you give. I typically like to think about what questions my audience may ask. This forces me to prepare better; I’m also ready for the end of the presentation where you open the floor for questions.
Know the Setting and Event Details
Gather as much information as you can about the details of your talk or presentation. This will build some extra comfort and allow you to tailor the event to your advantage.
- If part of a larger event or meeting, what time will you be going? Would you prefer to go in the morning or afternoon. Usually, you don’t really have a choice but if you do, pick a time where you feel relaxed and alert. Earlier is probably better so you’re not stressed out all day waiting.
- Are you first in a lineup? Last? Before/after food? I like to know if I’ll have some time before I’m up to just mentally relax. Sometimes you’re stuck in a room and have to just sit and listen until you’re up; that can be tougher.
- How much time will you be allotted? Make sure your verbal practice sessions are shorter than your time slice since you will likely be asked a few questions.
- Go check out the room if possible or request information from the organizer. Is it just a meeting room with a projector and table? Or maybe it’s more of a hall or stage – if so, will you be able to use (or must you use) a podium? Will there be a mic available?
- What is the format for the presentation? Is the organizer combining everyone’s materials for one slide deck or are you expected to plug-in your laptop and work directly from that? Will most people be standing to present or working behind their computer? You want to know so you can practice the same way.
These details make a big difference in how you prepare your materials and how you practice. You do not want to be surprised, so get as many of these details as you can well before the event.
Knowing the setting gives you another preparation point – being able to emulate the circumstances of your talk in practice sessions. I have literally went through live practice sessions at the event location – this includes planning out where I want to stand and imitating use of a mic. I think most people with public speaking anxiety do a lot better if they know what’s in store for them.
Getting Your Talk Ready
If you know your background material and have gathered as much information as you can about the event and location, you should be able to put together your slides and other presentation material. Now this is highly subjective based on the talk, but I would suggest keeping it simple. For example, on slide decks I like to do 3-5 bulleted items per slide – I tend to structure my bullet points as guides or triggers that help me remember what I will say during showtime. If you are giving a speech that does not require slides you may want to prepare cue cards or a cheat sheet to help you out. Regardless, you need to come up with enough material to fill up the time slot you have allocated. A good general rule is a no more than 1 slide per minute allocated. I’ve seen people show up with 50+ slides for a 5m talk! Don’t do that.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Now comes the fun part – verbally going through your presentation and making adjustments as necessary. Edit your presentation/talk as needed then continually repeat until you are satisfied. While verbally going through the talk, you should look for ways to simplify your bullets (this makes it much simpler for yourself), cut out fodder or tangents, reword phrases or topics so they “cue” you better. For myself, some sentences I know I’ll say have to be reworked so they sound more natural.
At some point, you will feel pretty good about your content and you can just rehearse to yourself or some friends or family if you’re comfortable. I like to go through my talk at least 10-20 times before the event. It sounds like a lot but the majority of those are me just talking to myself out loud to get the inflections and pace correct. Depending on the magnitude of the event or talk, here are some other things that really help:
- Do at least one run-through at the event location if possible, going through where you will stand, where you may pace, hand motions, mic usage, etc.
- Video tape yourself to hear how it sounds and how you look. I just use my laptop webcam now, which works just fine.
- Time yourself and make sure you leave at least 5-10m for questions.
- Give your presentation to your significant other, family, or close friend(s). They may not understand the content, but can provide feedback on your delivery.
Doing live practice and video taping can really help get you comfortable and confident; this should help reduce your fear of public speaking as well.
Q & A Preparation
As mentioned way above, a good exercise to go through beforehand is to anticipate what questions the audience may ask. Think of 5-10 that you can prepare answers for ahead of time. This builds depth in your expertise and is just adds another level of confidence.
While you may not be able to fully get rid of your public speaking anxiety, you can certainly reduce it by being very well prepared. While the ideas may seem time consuming, they have worked pretty well for me, even to the point where I can spend less time preparing and still feel fairly comfortable about a talk or presentation. Give it shot next time and good luck!