There is no way around it: Public speaking can be terrifying.
I probably do at least five or six presentations a month, and I still get butterflies right before starting. Once I am on stage and have a rhythm going, my fear disappears. But I know what it is like to be nervous.
Everyone has a set of fears about public speaking. My biggest ones? I always worry that my mind will go completely blank and that I'll forget what I'm talking about. Another concern is that a person will walk away from the presentation thinking it wasn’t useful. People have taken time and energy to arrange for my appearance, so I want to make sure they learn something new.
Now, that I have been talking at colleges and doing training sessions for PR firms regularly, I have learned a few things about public speaking. These four tips have really helped me along the way:
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1. Know what your audience fears. This past weekend as I prepared for a DIY PR workshop for the Lady Project Summit in Providence, RI., I planned to include in my talk the basics of writing a pitch. But since the audience will be composed primarily of female small-business owners, I am going to spend some time addressing media-related issues that they are probably concerned about. From my past experience, entrepreneurs worry about a) receiving negative reviews or articles and b) if they are ready to be in the media spotlight.
When I speak to public-relations classes at colleges, students want to know not only if they can survive the real world of PR but also if they can find a job. So I always start my presentations by addressing this point.
People will pay more attention to you if they know you will help them overcome their fears.
2. Use personal mistakes. One of the best ways to connect with an audience is use your own life as an example. It adds a human touch, and people tend to believe you. When I talk about PR pitching, I always talk about the mistakes I have made (we all have made tons!), and what I learned from them.
We tend to use trial and error to find the best practices. If you can show your audience the process, they will get more from the presentation.
3. Be careful with jargon. We know you are smart; that is why you are up there giving a presentation. But the absolute worst kind of presentation is when all the information goes over people’s heads. The audience is left thinking, Maybe I am not smart enough to be in this industry? Was I the only one that didn’t get that?
To be a good presenter, you have to be able to break down high-level concepts for the crowd to understand. Know your audience. For example, when I address PR firms, I can talk shop. But when I'm speaking with business owners without a PR background, I try to steer clear of jargon.
4. Give real solutions. Another thing that really bothers me is when experts give a presentation without any takeaway tips. If I go to hear someone speak, I want to leave with a better understanding of how to accomplish something. Don’t worry; you aren’t going to give away all your secrets if you give the audience some pointers.
I realized that people pay attention to my workshops when they know that by the end they will have learned three steps toward writing the perfect pitch. I want the attendees to be able to do these things on their own when they leave. That is why they are there!