I used to be a really, really shy teen. Growing up, I was told I used to be comfortable singing in front of relatives during family gatherings, but as I matured, I started building a shell around me. Eventually, this turned into a bad case of introversion, causing me to underperform during high school and shy away from the stage during elementary as much as I could. Not that this prevented my teachers from pushing me forward.
Numerous times, I was tasked to do speeches, asked to sing in front of my peers and a larger audience, participate in debates, speak for my group during discussions - and other things that required a "me-against-the-world" type of setting. It made me uncomfortable to speak my mind to a large group of people who might not even care about what I wanted to say, and the mere thought of being rejected and openly dismissed scared the crap out of me.
These days, I'm not too worried anymore. No, it's not because I'm an expert or that I no longer have the fear of messing up - rather, it's because I've learned something about myself that made me realize I didn't have to freeze in terror.
Before I get to that, here are a few tips I'd like to give those who are struggling with speaking in public, to help you perform better and get rid of "the-world-is-gonna-eat-me-alive" thinking.
1. Know your crowd.
Control is everything, more so in public speaking. To know your audience is to know how to calibrate your choice of words, your tone, your voice, your style of persuading and/or informing, and how strong you'll need to come on with your topic. What kind of people are they, and why did they attend to hear you talk? This is about them believing in what you're proposing. If you've been invited as a speaker, ask the organizer about the event's demographics. The more you speak your audience's language, the easier it will be to convince them of something.
2. Trust your knowledge.
Chances are, whoever tapped you to speak knew what they were doing and respects your experience. You were asked to speak for an audience in need of what you know, so use that to boost your confidence. Sure, others in the crowd might have their own opinions of how, say, a newbie blogger should get started, but for the period of your talk, they're there to learn from you and pick up new ideas. You wouldn't have been put in that situation if no one believed you were ready. Trust what you know (but don't stop there).
3. Relax, be yourself.
Okay, this is such a cliché, and I'm sorry if you cringed. But this is true in almost all cases of public speaking. People listen to those they can relate to, and if you come across as robotic, monotonous, or incredibly superior to them, they'll tune out. That human aspect you bring to your talks is the anchor to your believability. I've attended seminars and workshops over the years, and some of the best speakers I've heard used their 'humanity' to connect, instead of pushing the audience to believe what they're saying. Once you connect on that level of familiarity with your audience, you can persuade them to believe anything you say.
4. Organize your thoughts into segments.
People in general don't like storms (for good reason). It's a given that if your speech is all over the place, no one, not even those with hard copies of your speech, will understand your point. Plan your 'opening grabber' (an introduction that will capture your audience's interest), your points to highlight, and your explosive ending. Endings don't have to always be something that leaves your listeners weirded out or shocked - just a little something to keep them thinking about your talk hours (or days) after it's over.
Of course, if something happens in the middle of your talk, following your outline might be the worst thing you could do. Learn how to easily adapt to changes in your audience's mood and interest. You might have a story or two to help them further understand your point or just to lighten up the room a bit.
We forget a lot of things when we're afraid or shocked, and during public speeches, forgetting to smile is one that's been on the list since the beginning of time. Remember, the people you're talking to are there to listen to you and learn from your expertise. A smile instantly tells your audience that (1) you're confident with what you're saying, (2) you're approachable, and (3) have their interests at heart. Be the friend that will help them ease into doing whatever you're talking about, and let them know you can be trusted. Some smiles deceive - let yours encourage.
Practicing, being prepared, and doing mouth exercises are all helpful, and are a given in getting better at public speaking. What I listed are those which helped me break most of my shell, and I'm still at work. I've done workshops and seminars in the past, and those experiences have helped take away my shyness in talking to a crowd.
Have any tips for your fellows? Let me know in the comments!
Need help? I'm always ready. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org :)