Thursday, September 23, 2010
10 things to help your fear of public speaking
What's funny is that I had been asked to give a brief presentation on a topic that I knew very well: how our side of the business was making such great numbers in food and beverage. I knew the topic well because I was the head of the national initiatives that were driving the numbers -- such a slam dunk, I didn't really even think about it; big mistake. When my turn finally came, my presentation was lame, it was actually downright embarrassing. I was sweating and shaking and even tried to get away with not using the mic. Instead of covering off on the great things that we were doing, I offered 3 minutes of lame verbal presentation with no props, no slides, no nothing -- big mistake on my part and I know I came across as incapable; certainly not the guy that was actually producing the results.
After that horrible presentation, I resolved to never, ever be unprepared and also to never allow myself to get that intimidated in a presentation ever again. I went and bought books, I was lucky enough to see some great presentations live, I scoured the internet for presentation secrets.
If you're looking for the silver bullet here, you're not going to get it, but I will tell you what helped a lot.
First: you've got to get out and do it; practice, like with anything else, is what makes you better at the presentation. I'm sure you've heard it before, but not practicing public speaking means that you won't be any good at it at all when you finally need to do it. You don't have to go from nothing to groups of hundreds or thousands, just use every possible opportunity to get out there and do it, even if it's only for 5 minutes.
Second: understand the psychology of it. There are lots of books out there that deal with this, but no one sums it up better than Seth Godin in Linchpin: "It turns out the three biological factors that drive job performance and innovation are social intelligence, fear response, and perception. Public speaking brings all three together. Public speaking also triggers huge fear responses. We're surrounded by strangers or people of power, all of whom might harm us. Attention is focused on us, and attention (according to our biology) equals danger. Last, and more subtly, speaking involves perception. It exposes how we see things, both the thing we are talking about and the response of the people in the room. Exposing that perception is frightening. In a contest between the rational desire to spread an idea by giving a speech and the biological phobia against it, biology has an unfair advantage." Once you know all this and acknowledge it, you can confront it and move on (or not). As Godin later points out: "Anxiety is needless and imaginary. It's fear about fear, fear that means nothing." What you "fear" about public speaking is the fear of everything listed above. As I ask others that I coach through this stuff: "What's the worst that's going to happen? They'll laugh at you or walk out -- who cares?"
Third: talk about stuff your passionate about. This is really simple. If you don't present and talk about things you feel strongly about, feel passionate about, you'll fail. I don't care how well you speak, there's a genuine (detectable) difference between just speaking at people and truly trying to get the message across about something your passionate about. As Tom Peters says, "People can smell emotional commitment (or lack thereof) from a mile away."
Fourth: set the room. Don't ever let some conversion guy, tech guy, event planner, etc. to set the room so you're not comfortable with it -- show up early and be ready to get dirty moving stuff around. Try to plan ahead and tell whomever is setting the room what you want (and then expect them to not do it quite right and that you'll need to adjust it).
Fifth: develop some rules for your PowerPoint presentations. If you're going to use them, adopt a formula and stick with it. I like Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint (with some variations) and Seth Godin's Really Bad PowerPoint, but I can tell you that I don't have a presentation that violates the rule of text smaller than 20 point text and that the majority of my slides are pictures/graphics/video and no text at all. Spend money on stock photography and graphics, and make sure you buy the correct license to use in your presentation. Either make your presentation look good by buying the graphics you need or stay home -- no one wants to see stupid built-in clipart from Microsoft. Sorry to bum you out, but it's the way it is.
Sixth: get used to the damn microphone. Get used to holding one, get used to walking around with one, get used to getting one attached to your lapel, and, if you're speeching a lot, go buy your own mic that can go in the wireless transmitter (the Samson SE50 is a place to start). By the way, if you're wireless, make sure you have 2 sets of spare batteries for the wireless mic or belt pack. Why 2? Because the mean failure rate jumps to 99.99% when you're presenting in front of a group and you can add more 9's to the left of the decimal the larger the group is.
Seventh: you're going to lose your train of thought. Get used to it and learn how to work through it. Or don't an fail. The natural reaction when you lose your train of thought is to go off on some tangent that makes no sense, but still causes words to come out of your mouth. Stop it! Figure out a method. I pick a person close to me, point at them, and say: "Shit! I lost my train of thought! What was I about to say?" They have no idea, but it jars my brain enough to get me back on track (or jars the audience enough that I don't have to).
Eighth: get audience interaction. For the love of god, people glaze over after five minutes. If they're not interacting with you, it's a lost cause. Unless you're talking for less than five minutes, in which case you might be ok, but you're probably better by getting them involved.
Ninth: dress the part. I hate wearing coats. I wear them during presentations ... usually with jeans. Why? It sets your frame of mind, it sets a tone with audience. Plus, if you're sweating your ass off, it ensures that the audience sees no wet pits (others won't tell you why they wear coats, I'm happy too -- wet pits suck, cover them with a jacket).
Tenth: there's a wealth of videos of great presenters available for free on the internet. Think what you want about Tony Robbins, but the guy knows his shit when it comes to presenting -- check out the TED video where he recovers from Al Gore shaking his train of thought. Check out a bunch of the TED videos -- hell, I post one almost every day on my Twitter feed; if you don't like the content, pay attention to the quality of the presentation.
I hope you do great.
Send me a link to video.
(picture from kevin_cease)