Earlier this summer, I was asked to speak at a business event about how small businesses can expand their presence in the global market. The room was filled with about 100 eager listeners as I stood behind a podium with my power point presentation in hand.
As I clicked the remote to advance the next to last side slide of my presentation, it suddenly dawned on me … “it was over.” I made it through and I wasn’t nervous. I did stumble over a couple of words though. However, in the overall scheme of things the audience seemed to love it. They immediately started asking questions and before I knew it the Q&A session was over too.
As a small business owner, I am confident that you will be asked, if you haven’t already, to speak in front of a group. Whether it is two or two hundred people, this is a great opportunity you should take advantage of because it means you have a chance to sell your business or service to potential customers or clients.
But, what if the very thought of public speaking sends shivers down your back? Well, it doesn’t have to be the case, especially if you keep in mind five key principles. These principles will help you overcome any fear of public speaking.
Principle 1: Throw Perfection Out the Door
If you are afraid of public speaking because you fear the embarrassment of making mistakes in front of others, then don’t be. Even professional speakers make mistakes. They stumble over words too. It’s natural. We are all human. The key is to recognize that mistakes will happen and do not beat yourself up when they do.
For example, when I first started publicly speaking years ago I was so focused on every little word I was saying that I inevitably mispronounced a word or even slurred words together because I was speaking too fast. I literally used to beat myself up over it as I replayed it back in my head.
But then I realized it, making a mistake during a presentation does not carry the death sentence. Dwelling on an error and feeling bad about it only adds to more anxiety. So, give yourself permission to make a mistake, regardless of how well you are prepared … which is the next principle.
Principle 2: Be Prepared
One of the best ways to reduce the fear of public speaking is to always be prepared. Although you may think you have to deliver mountains of facts or details to give your audience what they want, the truth is that you only need to make a couple main points to have your presentation be successful.
A great way to do this is to create an outline. An outline will help you to organize, plan and present your ideas. Plus if you get off track or get lost during your speech, you can quickly refer back to your outline to get you back on point.
Remember, all your audience simply wants from you is to walk away with one or two key points that will make a difference to them. If you structure your presentation to deliver this result, you will be successful. Plus, this will make your job as a speaker much easier, and more fun too.
Another way to make your job as a speaker much easier is to add humor and humility to your presentation.
Principle 3: Add Humor & Humility
Humor and humility are always a great way to make a presentation more enjoyable. It can also actually relax you to make you feel more at ease. This has worked quite well for me.
By adding humor and humility to your presentation, you are not only entertaining your listeners but you are also relating to them as well. After all, being humble makes you more credible, more believable and more respected. Just think about this for a moment.
By simply standing up in front of an audience and sharing some of your own weaknesses and mistakes, you create an environment where your listeners can acknowledge their shortcomings as well. This automatically resonates with them and relates you to them where in essence you become “one of them” instead of just the presenter. Heck, you can even combine together the humor factor with the humility factor.
Take for example, try telling a humorous story about yourself that also demonstrates some point you are trying to make, i.e., some mistake that you made that you now laugh about. This will immediately resonate with your audience and go a long way in building rapport with them.
So, just be yourself and be open. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerabilities, even if they seem awkward. I once saw a man speak at a timed speech where he screwed up the timing for the auto-slides, and was completely embarrassed. He talked about how embarrassed he was and tried very hard to keep going. The entire audience was sympathizing with him and was rooting for him to succeed.
Another way to make the time fly when you are giving a presentation is to engage the audience. This also will relax you and dampen any anxiety you may have by responding to your audience.
Principle 4: Interact With Your Audience
An easy technique to calm your nerves during a presentation is to engage the audience. Encourage them to participate. A simple way to do this is to ask your audience a question. You will be amazed at the responses you will receive.
If your audience has been sitting for a long time, you can interact with them by asking them to stand up, give their neighbor a high-five hand gesture, or by patting themselves on the back. This unexpected physical movement helps your audience stay more engaged with you for the rest of your presentation.
Plus, if your nerves are starting to rise, this gives you a quick break to compose yourself again before you continue on with your presentation. The key is to keep breathing, you will overcome your fears.
Principle 5: Remember To Breathe & Enjoy
And last, but not least, remember to breathe. It’s common for anxiety to set in as you approach the platform to give your speech or even during your presentation. If this happens, then remember to take a deep breath and relax. You will get through it.
You can also relax yourself by simply focusing on a friendly face in the audience. For example, make eye contact with a listener who is smiling or nodding his head with what you are saying or has just laughed at one of your opening sentences or jokes. Once you find that friendly face in the audience immediately focus on that person and speak to him as if that person is your friend. This will calm you.
Public speaking can definitely be challenging at times but in the business world, it is really an inescapable part of the every day. As a business owner, you are by default the spokesperson for your company. So, embrace it and put your fears aside. Enjoy the experience!
If you want to learn more ways to captivate your audience both on camera and off camera, then watch this presentation. It reveals some of the most closely guarded secrets from Hollywood.
*Originally published as Issue # 44 – November 18, 2011