Catriona Pollard, a professional public speaker and author of From Unknown To Expert, shares some of her top tips on overcoming nerves and the fear of being laughed off the stage.
When it comes to public speaking, I’ve done my fair share. I have done hundreds of talks, presentations, seminars, and even a TEDx talk standing before thousands of people.
Yet, I still get nervous before each speech. What if I haven’t prepared enough? What if I’m judged for what I say? What if I’m met with laughter like Trump in his most recent United Nations General Assembly speech…I laughed at it too!
I want to deliver a speech with the confidence of Amal Clooney at one of her famous trials, with the humour and passion of Hannah Gadsby, and the impact of Julia Gillard in her ‘Misogyny’ speech in Parliament.
I have some stand out ‘golden rules’ that I live by to deliver the best speech I can and to make sure people are laughing WITH me, not AT me.
Study your audience
Before any speaking opportunity, find out as much information about the audience as you can. From here, you can tailor your speech to their interests and needs.
Familiarising yourself with the audience and venue is a great way to reduce nerves and apprehensions. Get to the venue early, speak to some audience members. Getting a feel for who your audience is, will help you best prepare.
Add some flair to your presentation
Nothing is worse than listening to the monotone drawl of a presenter who sounds like they are reading out their notes. Boring! If you want to grasp the attention of your audience, keep it interesting. Add flair to your speech using humour, talking to the audience, asking questions, and using visuals.
The purpose of the speech is to resonate with your audience; you want your audience to relate with you. Your presentation can seem meaningless if you don’t find a way to successfully engage with your audience.
Practice really does make perfect
Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to overcoming your nerves. The foolproof way of eliminating your pre-speech nerves is to practice…over and over and over. Practice in front of your colleagues, family, and friends, while walking the dog – wherever.
Remember, your audience can smell your fear and see the cogs turning.
Familiarisation is the best deterrent to panic and anxiety. While “winging it” may seem like a good idea, the lack of structure is more likely to lead to overthinking, as you stumble your way through the presentation.
Preparation is my secret to confidence. Research your topic, prepare your speech and then practice, practice, practice.
Make your point clear from the get-go
A good speech gets straight to the point. Make sure to guide your audience, giving your presentation a clear direction and focus. At the end of the day, the purpose of a speech is to inform your audience.
Also, there is no need to tell the audience everything you know. Tell them what they need to know. The expression ‘less is more’ is pertinent in public speaking. It is important to be concise and brief.
Consider your body language
A lot of communication is nonverbal. The audience will not just be looking at your face; they will be looking at your body as well.
Be confident in what you say; stand up straight, look at the audience, and smile from time to time. Put your hands by your side, not in your pockets and not behind your back. Don’t forget to dress appropriately and be comfortable as well. Remember, a presentation is not what is said but how it’s said.
Look for the lighthouses
My friend and speaking coach, Mariette Rups-Donnelly, taught me a clever speaking trick. Find the lighthouses in the room. They are the people that are engaged and listening to you. Direct your focus to them and feed off their energy. It works every time.
Learn from your experiences and more importantly, your mistakes. Getting out of your comfort zone and pushing through challenges you face, will help you emerge as a stronger, more confident speaker. But most important of all, always treat yourself with love and care.
And sometimes you stuff up. And that’s OK. Don’t forget to always treat yourself with love and care.
In our office, we champion the insight of Disney’s Elsa from Frozen. Don’t hold on to failure, “let it go”.
About Catriona Pollard
Catriona Pollard is a presenter and speaker on all things PR, social media, personal branding, and creativity. She is the author of From Unknown To Expert – a step by step framework designed to help entrepreneurs develop effective PR and social media strategies to become recognised as influencers in their field.
She is also the director of CP Communications, which merges traditional PR tactics with cutting-edge social media strategies that engage consumers as well as business.