Prospering from Public Speaking

There's a quote in an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry states, "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death ... Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

The fear is real, though; many people are absolutely terrified of speaking on a podium or into a microphone. There's even a term for it: glossophobia.

In the last two months I've spoken at four different events, and received a number of invitations from event organizers for future gigs too. Go back a decade and you'd have never seen me speaking in front of a crowd.

So, what changed? Well, I've learned a number of tips that helped me through that public speaking fear. The main one was having some confidence in my abilities. I used to spend all my time trying to work out what they wanted from me, and what persona to adopt on stage. That stressed me out no end, until I came to a simple conclusion: they want me speaking, not me pretending to be someone else.

If you're invited to speak at an event, it's because you have some valuable knowledge or experience to share. Don't ever think it's because they think you're someone you're not.

Be yourself is my main message here; work on providing thought-provoking and interesting material, rather than changing your personality or delivery.

My second point is that practice makes perfect. I found that speaking at small events and working my way towards larger affairs builds your confidence and helps refine your presentation style. I volunteered to speak to students at local universities a few times before I felt comfortable enough to then start speaking at conferences or paid ticket events.

Thirdly, accept that nervousness makes for a better gig. A friend of mine, who speaks at conferences all over the world, once said to me that if he didn't feel nervous walking to the podium, he would stop doing it. If you aren't at all nervous, it's possible you're not trying to get the most out of yourself, and that could make for a lackluster presentation.

Finally, prepare. This is more than just crafting the right slides too. Spend time writing what you want to cover in point form, and perform for your partner or pets in your own home. This helps ensure you stick to time limits and iron out all the kinks. Rattling it off in your head gives no true reflection of tone and speed.

If you currently have no speaking gigs, sit down and decide what topic(s) you're most comfortable with. Put together a list of the type of audience that may benefit from such a presentation. Approach small groups (local business chambers, university classes, and so on) and offer yourself as a speaker. Before you know it, you'll have landed your first speaking gig.

Best of luck!

Miles Burke
tribune@sitepoint.com
Editor, SitePoint Tribune

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