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June 13, 2013

40 Tips for Stress-Free Public Speaking

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No matter what kind of job you have, or what business you’re in, there comes a time when you are asked to give a presentation in front of a group of people.

Now public speaking is something that doesn’t come naturally to most of us and in fact a survey not too long ago found that many people are more terrified of speaking in public than they are of death itself. When asked to choose between death and public speaking, death was the preferred option. Crazy, right?

But for those of us with social anxiety, public speaking, even to small groups, can fill us with dread. As an educator and consultant, a large part of my job involves public speaking. I am called upon to present information in client meetings to senior management, I speak to large groups of students and universities via webinars, I give presentations to large rooms full of people at conferences and I run regular full- and half-day training workshops for industry organizations. I regularly give presentations to groups of people ranging from five to 500.

I used to HATE giving public presentations. I still dislike it strongly, but after regularly forcing myself into giving them for 10 years now, I am slightly more relaxed about it than I used to be. Sure, I still find it difficult to sleep the night before a speaking gig. And if you look closely at me on stage, you’ll probably spot my legs shaking, but provided I have prepared well and know my subject matter, I’ll muddle through and generally do a good job.

Going along with the analogy “do something every day that scares you,” I think it’s important for me to put myself out there and prove to myself that I can do it. I also feel it is excellent therapy to help me deal with my social anxiety. Apart from the benefits to myself, I know I have a lot of knowledge that I can impart to others and what better way to share that knowledge than public speaking?

Anyway, after giving yet another presentation this week, it occurred to me that I have built up a pretty good pre-presentation checklist that others might find useful. Here are my tips:

Top Tips for Making Your Presentations Run Smoothly and Stress Free:

  • Find out exactly where the venue is in relation to your accommodation and if you’ve got time, make a practice run to the venue the day before.
  • If the venue is large (such as a university), ask for a map showing exactly where the room is that you’ll be speaking in.
  • If you’re driving to the venue, factor in extra time for unexpected traffic jams and take plenty of coins in case you need to use paid parking.
  • Find out what technology will be available to you (whiteboard/ projector/laptop/slide clicker) and adjust if necessary.
  • If you’ve arranged catering for break times, confirm details with caterers the day before.
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep the night before.
  • Have a big breakfast but no coffee if it makes you anxious. Try a decaf or hot chocolate instead.
  • Get to the venue at least an hour early so you can get comfortable, test the technology and rehearse.
  • Upon arrival, make yourself known to someone at the venue who can help you with technical and other issues.
  • Make sure you know exactly how much time you have on stage and confirm break times with the organizers and your audience before starting.
  • Wear layers. No matter what the weather outside, air conditioning can be your friend and your foe. Wear clothes that you feel comfortable and confident in, but in layers that you can easily slip on or off depending on the room temperature.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Re-read that last point. This is important. Public speaking is no place for stilettos. Especially when you are walking around on a stage that will likely have electrical cables snaking all over it.
  • Don’t assume the venue will provide you with water. Take a bottle with you.
  • Don’t assume the venue will provide paper and pens for your attendees – ask for them.
  • Bring your business cards and place them somewhere prominent for people to take.
  • Bring your presentation on a Flash drive in multiple formats (e.g. .pptx, .ppt, .odp, .pdf) just in case something goes wrong.
  • Bring your own HDMI or component cable for hooking up to a projector, just in case the venue doesn’t have one.
  • Bring a backup power source for your laptop and/or projector.
  • Bring or ask for a lapel microphone if the venue is large and you want to be sure you can be heard up the back.
  • Don’t assume the venue will provide Internet access. With large audiences, free Wi-Fi at events can often be maxed out quickly, so if you need Internet access for your presentation, take your own or make arrangements with the organizers.
  • If you have mobile Internet access via your phone, take along your phone charger and spare battery in case you need to use it.
  • Don’t assume you can use your own laptop.
  • Don’t assume you don’t need your own laptop.
  • Be prepared for the venue to run everything on Windows (take adaptors for Mac and/or Linux). Yes, I learned this one the hard way.
  • Don’t assume your laptop will recognize the venue projector/monitor. Take your own or have a backup plan.
  • Don’t assume the venue projector/monitor supports Presenter Mode. Take a print out of your notes in case you can’t see notes/slides view while presenting.
  • If you are linking to live resources on the Internet, have them open in separate windows on your laptop and test that all links work.
  • If you are showing videos, test they work and test the volume of the audio to make sure they can be heard by everyone in the room.
  • Find out how to turn the lights on/off if you need to show videos.
  • Find out where/if you can increase the temperature of the air conditioning in the room in case attendees are too hot/cold.
  • Bring deodorant, especially if you have a tendency to sweat when anxious.
  • Bring breath mints so you can feel confident networking with attendees afterwards.
  • Remember to turn off your cellphone prior to going on stage, unless you are using it for Internet access. In this case, turn the volume down or off in case your Mom tries to call mid-presentation.
  • Store some tissues in a pocket that will be easily reachable during your presentation in case your nose starts to run (air conditioning can be brutal at some venues!).
  • Smile. Even if you’re struggling or things are not going well, people will forgive you if you smile your way through.
  • Ask your audience some questions! It will take the focus off you, just for a little while and give you a chance to pause and collect your thoughts. This is a great tip if you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed or find yourself racing through your slides.
  • Work out where the toilets are before you go on stage, in case you have to slip out quickly or the attendees ask you where they are.
  • Find out the emergency exits and fire/earthquake drills for the venue before you go on stage and make sure your audience knows it too. After living in Christchurch (the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand) for the past few years, this is pretty much routine at all business events now.
  • Always ask for feedback on your presentation, either from the audience directly, or via the organizer if they are using feedback forms. Good or bad, audience feedback is extremely valuable. Positive feedback can validate your hard work and reinforce your sense of achievement in standing up in front of a group. Negative feedback in the form of honest, constructive criticism can highlight areas for improvement and help you develop your presentations skills for next time. It’s a win, win.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and perhaps they will help your next public speaking engagement run a little more smoothly. Do you have any tips not included here? Please add them in the comments.


Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College — an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in search engine optimization and other search engine marketing subjects.

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