It was my senior year of high school, and I’d been dreading this moment all week.
My hands were shaking, I was sweating, and I would have rather been almost anywhere else. I walked to the front of the room, plugged in my flash drive, and looked out at my classmates. 20 pairs of eyes were staring back at me, and I had to talk about Anatomy for the next 10 minutes.
Seriously. I had been freaking out about a 10 minute power point presentation all week? I quickly got through it, sat down, and prayed that I’d never have to give another presentation again.
It was my Junior year of college, and I was doing shots of Fireball in a bathroom stall.
I was about to give a 25-minute presentation for my class final. To calm my nerves I’d been taking “anti-anxiety” pills from the grocery store all morning, and they weren’t working. But the Fireball was working. I confidently strode into the classroom, talked about the death penalty for 30 minutes, and had a lot of fun. I sat back down, happy that it went so well, but a little ashamed about relying on liquor for confidence.
It was today, and I was speaking to 30 art students about college and scholarship opportunities.
When I finished, the teacher came up and asked me how long I’d been doing this.
“About 2 years,” I said
“Yeah. You’re good at it.” She replied.
How did I go from being a nervous wreck to actually enjoying public speaking? More importantly, how can you learn to do this? I’ve broken it down into 5 basic steps.
1. Change Your Mindset
I used to think people were judging me. They’d notice my hair was a little messed up, laugh if I said a word wrong, and make fun of me for days afterward. This kind of thinking is delusional and ineffective.
First of all, remember that no one is judging you. Think about the last time you watched a presentation. What were you thinking about? Were you even paying attention? I never paid attention when people gave speeches. I was too busy thinking about what to eat for lunch.
Even if they are judging you, who cares? Think of the last time you judged someone. Did it affect them in any way? Probably not. Insecurity is at the root of most fear, and it’s not easy to get rid of. Most people search for others’ approval so they can finally feel accepted. That’s why most people are unhappy and insecure.
True self-esteem comes from within. You’re the only one who controls how you feel about yourself, and when you realize that you’ll have a greater sense of control over your life.
Obviously, this is easier said than done. I’ll write a post about building healthy self-esteem soon, but if you want to start right now, I highly recommend this book.
2. Get in “State”
Mediocre speakers have good days and bad days. Sometimes they’ll be energetic and confident, but sometimes they’ll feel tired or insecure. Amazing speakers have this problem too, but they’ve found a way to instantly go from insecure to confident. It’s called getting into “state.”
How can you do this? It varies from person to person, so I’ll give a quick breakdown of my routine.
- Power Pose – this is key. Clasp your hands together and put them behind your neck so your elbows fan out at the sides of your head. Stay like this for a few minutes, and your body will release chemicals that actually make you more confident.
- Vocal Exercises – Make your voice as low as possible, then take it as high as you can go, now back down to low. Do this for about 15 seconds. Now say “ba ba ba ba” to get your lips warmed up. If you can purr, do it now. After that, just do something that involves using your voice. I sing dumb pop songs because it puts me in a silly mood.
- Smile – Seriously. Just grin like a fool for a few minutes, even if it feels totally insane. We smile when we’re happy, but we also become happy when we smile. It releases endorphins and lifts your mood.
3. Move Your Body
Walk around the whole room if you can. If not, walk around the stage. Make sure you’re not pacing back and forth (it shows insecurity), but some movement is important.
Use your hands – a lot. People are either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. You need to appeal to all 3 types, and talking with your hands keeps the visual learners engaged. The best speakers make circles with their arms, spheres with their hands, and have a wide range of motions. Extra points of you throw in a clap, snap, or something else that combines visual with auditory.
Taking up space demonstrates confidence. Whenever I feel like a talk isn’t going well, I use it as an opportunity to be even more over-the-top with my hands. It always gets better after that.
4. Vary Your Pitch, Tone, and Tempo
Many people speak in one pitch when they’re giving a presentation or reading out loud. During your daily conversations, you probably use most of your vocal range without thinking about it. Start observing your natural conversations and incorporating more variation into your speeches.
I started out by saying one sentence low, one medium, one high, and then back to low. This sounded weird at first, but it was still better than monotone. Eventually you’ll learn when to change pitch for emphasis, but simply bringing in awareness is a good place to start.
Most people speak too quickly in front of an audience. This shows insecurity because it implies you don’t think your words are worth the time it takes to listen. Begin talking at an uncomfortably slow pace, then change your tempo throughout your talk. Slow down whenever you make an important point.
One great technique is to clearly announce each syllable of a word you want to emphasize.
Instead of saying “this painting is incredible,” say “this painting is in-cred-di-ble.”
Be aware of volume – say some words loudly and others quietly. Notice the effect it has on your presentation.
5. Keep Your Audience Involved
This is super important. You want to make sure everyone is listening, and keeping them involved is the best way to do this. Eye contact is key. Studies show that people don’t trust speakers who don’t look them in the eye. This is uncomfortable at first, but practice saying one sentence to one person, the next to someone else, and so on.
Asking questions keeps people involved. When you call on someone to answer, make sure you repeat what they said loudly so everyone can hear.
If you don’t want audience members to speak, give commands to keep them engaged.
“Raise your hand if…”
“Give me a thumbs up if you understand.”
And, my personal favorite, “Imagine a time when…”
Hope this has been helpful, please let me know if you have any questions.