From my experience public speaking is one of the most difficult things you can do, much less prepare for. I am the founder and president of a company which requires me to speak to people on a weekly basis. Of course I am usually speaking to a smaller number of people, maybe two to five at a time.

public speakingThere are rare occasions when I must speak to more and then there is usually a podium, a stage and a presentation involved. I can speak effortlessly and intelligently to two to five people. But when it grows to 20 or more, well then I get nervous. Luckily for me it passes quickly and after five minutes I’m into the flow and all goes well. Still, it helps to do some things ahead of time to make the journey from nervous stutterer to polished speaker. Here are some things I’ve learned that may help you if you are ever called on to speak in front of a group of people.

Make Notes
Everyone losses their train of thought sometimes and making notes can save you from that awkward pause as you stare into the ceiling trying to remember what the heck you were saying. Notes can keep you on task and remind you of important points to make. Don’t read from your note cards, but don’t be afraid to look at them if you need help. And be sure you have practiced with them…many times.

Practice, Practice, Practice
I practice my presentations at least a dozen times. Considering my presentations, with Powerpoint slides, last over an hour that is a lot of my time. But I’m ready and confident when I’m on stage and that makes it worthwhile. Practice with an audience of family or friends if you have to, but be sure you get an honest critique at some point.

Expect The Worst
Most likely things will go smooth, but imagine what might go wrong and be ready when it does. It is entirely wrong to try and avoid thinking about what could go wrong, how else will you prepare for it, if you ignore the possibility. This way, if it happens, you are ready. Finally, if yo think about what could go wrong I think you will see that, in reality, it won’t be the end of the world.

Get Relaxed
Sure, I know what you are thinking. How can I relax, I’ve got to speak in front of X number of people. What I mean is get rid of other sources of stress. Be sure to get plenty of sleep. Have your clothes picked out ahead of time. If traveling, make sure all the arrangements have been made. Do something your enjoy the day or night before, watch a comedy or whatever relaxes you.

Body Language
Nothing says I don’t know what I’m doing than having your head down, shoulders slumped and poor posture. Keep your head up, chin level with the floor and for the love of Pete, SMILE!

Body Energy
Take some time right before you speak to breathe. Concentrate on deep, shallow breaths and feel your body relax. Stretch if you can and feel the tightness leave your body. Take a brief walk a few minutes before and release the nervous energy. This will also increase the blood flow to your brain, making you more alert.

Use the Fear
This is the most important part for me. I turn the fear into something else. I move it towards fueling my passion towards what I’m speaking about. Of course it is difficult, but I am trying to convey something to others that means a lot to me. That gets me excited and helps me turn fear into anticipation. Why else would I be doing it. Not for money, there are easier ways to make money so I use the fear to create excitement.

Faking It
As I said earlier, it takes me a few minutes to hit my stride and get confident. Until then I fake it. I pretend to be a confident speaker. I act like I know what I’m doing. And guess what? Everyone believes it. Not only will you convince your audience, but you will convince yourself too.

Never Say Sorry
Do not apologize when you are speaking. As cliche as it sounds it will make you appear weak in this instance and asks for sympathy. You don’t want sympathy, you want their attention. If you make a mistake or get distracted, move on and let it go.

Don’t Forget to Breathe
Silly you say? Speaking and breathing can sometimes be difficult that is why you catch your self sighing during your speech or talking to fast. Instead pause every now and then…for dramatic affect and to catch your breath, chances are you are speaking to quickly anyway. Pausing will also given your audience to think about what you are saying and will give you time to gather your thoughts.

Your Audience is Your Friend
Believe me, the audience is your friend. They want you to do well more than you do. Think about it, if you see someone doing poorly in front of an audience you are in don’t you feel for them? Do you hold your breath hoping they’ll do well, or recover if they slip up. Of course you do and your audience is doing the same for you. They are your friends so think of them this way.

georgeFinish Strong
As George Costanza from Seinfeld fame would say, “Go out on a high note.” End with a strong statement, think of how to end your speech or presentation have it prepared. Never end with something soft such as “I think that is all I have to say” or “I guess that’s it”. Nothing will leave a bad impression worse than your own doubt in what your just presented. Have a good story or something that will leave your audience thinking. A good ending can cover a lot of missteps or a poor beginning. And always end with a heartfelt thank you and SMILE.

Public speaking, for me, has gotten easier over time. I no longer dread it and actually look forward to it as a challenge in my life. Looking at it that way has lessened the fear dramatically. Now I can see it for what it is, something that I hope to be better at as time goes on. If I have a bad performance, I try to understand why so next time I AM better and that makes it an exciting challenge for me.

I hope this helps and please add any advice you may have about public speaking. And finally, I am far more scared of death than I am speaking in public.

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