Start with a joke.
Practice in the mirror.
Just picture the audience naked!
Ever heard one of these strategies to prepare to speak in front of a group of people? The most common fear among Americans is public speaking. That’s more than snakes, spiders, and heights! But why in the world would I picture someone naked? This piece of advice is supposed to make you feel less nervous because it will humanize everyone in your audience and make the situation seem less intimidating. But the truth is, it probably makes you completely forget what you were going to speak about because you’re trying to undress everyone!
How about some real advice to prepare for speaking in front of a crowd?
Start by identifying two to three takeaways you want your audience to know or take action on after you are done speaking. And start to build your script around those major points.
Include personal stories. Stories connect with people and they are likely to be the most remembered. I always got an answer wrong on the show Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader? because it asked about a bunch of facts. But if I asked you to retell several nursery stories, you could easily do it. Stories connect with people.
Determine how you will convey your information – include something creative, like a funny video or a demonstration. Don’t fall prey to only speaking or putting bullet points on a slide. Mix it up!
When I prepare for a speech that I’m really nervous about, I look at my takeaways/major points and then write down everything I want to say. I’m talking full-on sentences of every detail I want to convey. Once I read through this a couple times and feel confident that I’ve included everything I think is important, I break it back down to the major takeaways/bullet points. I know this might seem time consuming, but it has worked for me – only you can decide if this might be a good decision for you.
Know your stuff! Don’t be a PowerPoint slide reader! And consider possible worst-case scenarios: What if your presentation won’t work? Or your notecards get lost in route? Be so confident in your information that you could at least hit most of your points just by memory. Yes, it will likely require several hours of practice. But your nerves will be so much calmer because you’ll feel like you can at least move from point to point with most of your explanation.
Ask someone to listen to your speech – someone you trust who is comfortable giving you positive and negative feedback. And don’t get your feelings hurt when they offer suggestions! Just accept them and decide later what changes you might make.
Leave for your speech early. There’s nothing more stressful then getting stuck in traffic. Or not having time to hit the restroom before you need to be in your place. Give yourself plenty of time to get there and maybe even a little time to do a quick run-through of your speech in your head.
Smile. It conveys you want to be there. And it brings other people into a good mood. Or, don’t smile if your subject warrants it. It’s probably not the best decision to smile if you are arguing for harsher sentencing for criminals…
Find the few interested folks in the crowd. Inevitably someone will be playing on their phone and someone won’t pay attention at all. But don’t let that get to you! There will be those listeners who are totally engaged and want to hear what you have to share! Focus on these people. Look them in the eyes. They will give you the energy to give a strong speech. But leave ‘em dressed. They are listening to your speech; the least you could do is not picture them naked.
What lessons have you learned from past public speaking experiences?