If my life had a soundtrack, the opening verse of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (you know, the mom’s spaghetti one) would be on queue during the moments leading up to my Professor calling my name, notifying me that it’s my turn to present.
The thing that puzzles me the most is that I’m not even a shy person, I’m actually the opposite. According to my peers, friends, colleagues, and girlfriend, I am the outgoing and gregarious socializer, or the life of the party — and I agree.
You know that kid that sits right in the middle of the classroom and competes with the teacher for the class’s attention? Yeah, that was me.
All throughout my journey through academia I took pride in the amount of times I had the class in tears, holding their stomachs and mouths trying to contain their roars of laughter.
So why was I able to bask in my classmates’ attention when the spotlight isn’t supposed to be on me, but when it comes time for end of semester presentations in front of the entire class, my genial aura fades into a state of non-existence?
Well, at least that’s what used to happen, until I discovered five life hacks that completely cured me of my public speaking phobia.
Turn “Presenting to 50 people” into “50 one-on-one conversations”
Although this may require a bit more poise than the ol’ picture everyone in their underwear tactic, breaking down a presentation into a series of conversations will relieve you of a substantial amount of pressure and anxiety.
Think of it like this, rarely do we trip over a word or freeze-up when having a one-on-one conversation with a friend. Something about talking to multiple people at once, the more people you have to address, the more pressure.
In most instances, we try and talk to the entire audience as a whole.
The key is to address the entire audience but once you begin to present, single in on familiar faces in the crowd.
Instead of looking out into an intimidating abyss of people, make eye contact with a specific person and direct the sentence to them as if you were just having a regular conversation with them while still being heard loud and clear by the rest of those in attendance.
Be sure to alternate people with each new sentence, you don’t want to present it all to the same person and ignore everyone else in the room… that’s just weird.
Start strong with a “grabber”
Maybe a funny personal story, or an inspirational quote from your favorite speaker, or a shocking statistic – anything that takes a hold of your audience and gets them hooked and opens their mind to your message.
One must give the audience a chance to see your personal connection to the topic.
Slow it Down
We all know that one person that delivers a twenty minute presentation in about a minute forty-five. I strongly recommend you stay clear of the “just get it over and done with” method.
When you’re nervous about something your heart beat quickens, and you start talking three or four times faster than you usually speak, thus making the presentation difficult to follow and shows the audience how nervous you really are. RELAX.
Take a deep breath and begin speaking. The audience is a lot more forgiving than you think. Author and speaker Simon Sinek says,
“They want you to succeed up there, but the more you rush, the more you turn them off.”Just go quiet for a moment and take a long, deep breath, they’ll wait for you. It’s kind of amazing.”
Sinek believes there is no such thing as speaking too slow.
“It’s incredible that you can stand on stage and speak so slowly that there are several seconds between each of your words and people… will… hang… on… your… every… word. It really works.”
Know your Stuff
I repeat, Know-Your-Stuff. Knowing your topic like the back of your hand does wonders for how you present. This point, in my opinion, is the most important of them all.
The audience can tell when you know little to nothing about your topic, and if it sounds like you don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no chance the audience will.
The more you know, the less you stress. When you organize all of your thoughts and materials it helps you to become much more calm and confident.
When you have clear, concise, organized thoughts it can monumentally reduce your speaking anxiety because you can better focus on the one thing at hand, giving a great presentation.
Practice makes Perfect
Practice, practice, practice… then practice some more. Nothing beats putting in time practicing and preparing for your speech.
I recommend writing out a script of your full presentation to ensure you provide sufficient details for each point.
This script is for practice purposes only. Once it’s time to present you should have just the main points outlined on Q-cards.
The rest of the information should be in your head at this point.
I’d also recommend reciting your presentation in front of a mirror a few times, then eventually a small audience like a few friends or family members, and you’ll be ready for game day in no time at all.