Few experiences can paralyze an otherwise knowledgeable, confident and composed individual quite like the proposition of public speaking. You would never know it from watching them onstage, but some of the world’s most sought-after lecturers would rather be just about anywhere doing anything other than addressing hundreds or even thousands of anonymous strangers at once. It takes a life-changing commitment to a process of facing fears and insecurities through methodical cycles of trial and error for an avowed introvert to build an entire self-styled personal brand around captivating one crowd after another.
As fortune would have it, there’s absolutely nothing influential motivational teachers such as Robert Kiyosaki, Simon Sinek, Byron Katie, the late Stephen Covey and even Tony Robbins have overcome or mastered along those lines during their formative talks that you or anyone else can’t.
”What Am I Thinking?”
No, seriously. You won’t build a lasting following structuring your talks based on what you expect your audience to do for you. People gravitate toward a “giver,” someone with a provocative message that inspires them to engage with social media posts, buy books, and attend workshops. As Kid Rock once said, “If it looks good, you’ll see it. If it sounds good, you’ll hear it. If it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it. If it’s real, you’ll feel it.” Ask not what your audience can do for you. Ask yourself, how can I teach and inspire my audience?
What Goes Into Your Talk Before Hitting The Stage?
You wouldn’t even consider building a house without a thoroughly detailed, polished blueprint reviewed several times over. Treat your talk with the same respect as you flesh it out.
No matter the topic, you can’t go wrong starting by breaking your presentation down into your grabber, middle and summary segments. Your grabber should open with a thought-provoking quote from one of your topic’s foremost experts, some jarringly impactful statistic, or preferably a personal story that demonstrates your personal investment in the subject at hand. The central body will lay out what you want your audience to walk away thinking about. Finally, your summary should call the audience to actions and forward thinking rooted in the very same impassioned convictions that originally compelled you to the stage.
Every word should pour out of you as naturally as breathing by the time you take the stage. Leave nothing to chance. Rehearsing your talk repeatedly in front of a mirror will give you a glimpse at your presentation through your audience’s eyes while committing each phrase, pause, and breath to memory. Running through your speech with friends ready and willing to offer their direct feedback will both acclimate you to live spectators and subject you to helpful third-party critiques that might sand down a few rough edges that might have otherwise slipped through cleaning. In both environments, time your talk repeatedly to establish a natural rhythm and record each run-through for later review.
Explore The Stage
If you can take the stage as comfortably as you would step into your living room, settling into every word the instant you begin your talk will feel like slipping on a well-worn pair of gloves. Visit your anticipated venue and linger a while to gain a sense of the stage, note the layout of any tables or lecterns, and stride confidently to and from the entrances and exits. Seriously, make yourself at home as though the audience were relaxing dinner guests in your own abode.
Your Visual Aids Are Not Your Speech
From the time you begin rehearsing your presentation, your visual aids should be seamlessly integrated into every practice run. Take those opportunities to preemptively account for any unforeseen mishaps by setting an estimated runtime with a buffer for adjusting your presentation on the fly. At the same time, getting comfortable with slideshows and props makes it easier to polish your talk so that they enhance your overall presentation and add to your thematic impact without allowing them to serve as crutches to offset poor memorization.
Remember, anybody can download a slideshow. Your audience is an assemblage of guests who are paying and offering their precious time to indulge in
your singular inner fire for the subject at hand, to experience something they won’t take away from a few hours with anyone else but you alone.
Dress For The Occasion
It might be the final finishing touch you address, but always go the extra mile to attire yourself appropriately. A pulled-together professional look should always be your standard, but remember that you will probably be standing a good while beneath stage lights far hotter than you have probably assumed. Dress to move fluidly and comfortably without overheating.
After covering all that, your preparation should leave you ready to command the stage like a seasoned leader, right?
Ever notice how everything sounds easy until you find yourself doing it?
OK, It’s Showtime – Now what?
This is where tweaking the way your body naturally responds to stress can forever change the way you handle high-pressure moments.
That nervousness you feel welling up as the clock ticks down to the moment you take the stage? At its most basic level, it isn’t so different from the kind of anxious anticipation that creeps up on Olympic athletes right before they compete. Use that hyper-alert state of energy. You may need some practice before it fully takes, but you can convince yourself that you are really feeling a breathtaking rush of excitement to lay bare a passion so personally ingrained, it’s actually the thrill of a lifetime to share it with a gigantic mass of strangers all at once.
If you really want to feed the exhilaration of speaking to a filled hall from a stage you alone command, then slip away for a short while with your pounding heart and tense nerves to meet a few audience members face-to-face as they trickle into the venue. This is a great chance to connect personally and gratefully with the people who have paid to see you and get a feel for just who is interested in what you have to say.
The Floor Is Yours
Your instincts will insist that you open your talk with guns blazing, bleeding all your energy into a rapid-fire verbal assault the second you step onstage. Temper that reflex. It only communicates to the audience how anxious you are for their approval and places all the “power” over your performance in their hands.
Instead, make your confidence unmistakably clear by walking out silently, pausing a few seconds for a measured and patient deep breath, and then calmly slipping into your speech.
Everything that follows should be so cemented by your innumerable hours of practice as to come across as easily as the way you answer a phone. Slow your speech to a methodical tempo that draws your audience into every word and pause between three and eight seconds just before and after key statements and stories to allow their gravitas some time to settle over the audience.
As you progress through your talk, your eyes are bound to fall upon the furrowed brows, crossed arms and shaking heads of naysayers and skeptics. Ignore them. Focus on making eye-contact with one audience member at a time, treating each to an entire sentence or thought before your gaze shifts to the next. Suddenly, your speech has less of a performance atmosphere and an air more akin to the most riveting cocktail party banter any soiree has ever known. One at a time, as long as you keep a warm, natural smile as steadily as possible, you will have made every attendee feel for an instant like the only soul in the room.
Finally, always end on the same two words: “thank you.” These people have paid to spend an evening in your company. They deemed your thoughts worthy of far more than a penny, offering you their precious time and open minds. Never forget, success in public speaking is not about what your audience can do for you, but what you can do for your audience.
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