You’re correct that public speaking can be a fantastic way to grow your business, gain awareness for your ideas and refine your messaging. However, at the beginning of your public speaking journey there are a lot of questions that are only answered through experience. The real cure to the fear of public speaking? You just have to walk through it. Here are a few tips that helped me.
1. Start small and speak often. The greatest advice I got at the beginning of my public speaking career came from a friend, who told me “get your reps in.” In other words, the more times you get in front of a crowd, the more comfortable you will grow with a lot of eyes glaring at you, and the less self-conscious you will be about sharing your ideas. At first I would speak to any group that would have me, and that often meant speaking to groups of 10-20 people in a side room somewhere at a conference. I did that dozens of times before I had the chance to get in front of larger groups. However, those early experiences refining my speaking technique have proven invaluable now that I’m keynoting at events in front of thousands of people on a regular basis. The bottom line: don’t do all of your public speaking experimentation in front of a big, important crowd! Get feedback from a small group before it’s show time.
2. Answer the two most important questions. In terms of being comfortable with your content, you really only need to answer two questions: “What do I want them to know?”, and “What do I want them to do?” Every great talk has both of these components. Inspiration without action is sterile, and action without inspiration is often short-lived. You should develop really clear answers to each of these questions, and then make certain that you anchor the rest of your talk around these key points. Practice communicating them by yourself or with a peer until you can deliver your content very comfortably.
3. Remember: Passionate clarity overshadows technical mistakes. I was speaking at an event in Istanbul last year, and the gentleman who spoke before me was an expert in public speaking. (In other words, he’d just shared with everyone all of the things you’re not supposed to do when you speak. Talk about pressure!) After my talk, I pulled him aside and asked him to diagnose my technique and offer some tips. He said, “Well, there are certainly things I could help you with, but in truth, your passion for your topic covers over all of the technical errors you were making. Passion for your topic and clarity of message are the most important things.” It’s easy to become overly self-conscious when speaking to the point that you analyze your language and technique to death. Instead, focus on why you care about your topic, and allow that to shine through. You can’t move others unless you are first moved by the topic. Don’t be afraid to let your passion shine through!
Getting comfortable as a public speaker is simple, but not easy. If you have a pulse, you’ll always be a little nervous, but in time you can learn to channel those nerves into positive energy instead of jitters.