I’m not looking to be smooth in front of hundreds of people—I just want to present myself competently in company meetings. How do you make public speaking look so easy?
Thanks for your question. If I’m making public speaking look easy, it’s an optical illusion. Practice and feedback in as many settings as possible generate the skills and comfort level required for expert speaking. This is a lifelong, incredibly valuable pursuit. Who doesn’t want their ideas respected and put to use? I’m proud of you for being open to this adventure.
Remind yourself: It’s not about you, it’s about your audience and your content. You’re a conduit for your message, in service to the topic and recipients. While you must manage first impressions smartly, it ideally becomes irrelevant whether you’re old, young, tall or short, female or male. Excellent presenters overcome stereotypes and earn gratitude from those who hear their sincerity. If Jedi Master Yoda showed up to speak at your meeting, you’d listen and learn. You’d quickly forget that he’s almost 900 years old, two feet tall and green as your heart and mind were drawn in. Find passion for the topic or find someone else to present.
All of us (unless we have delusions of grandeur) are intimidated by an audience at some point. You are no more or less valuable than any human in the room. You’re not better, so don’t speak as if you are. You’re not lesser, so don’t fear the opportunity. I received the advice to “picture the judges in their underwear” when I hoped to win grade school science fairs. A bit jarring, but a common way to say “an audience is only human.”
The audience is likely rooting for you and interested, if you genuinely want to be there. You’ve probably seen speakers who didn’t. It’s painful to watch, because it’s painful for them. Empathy is in effect. Sometimes, I’ll hear a presenter announce that they’re nervous and I cringe. The result is always an uncomfortable audience. Give yourself the gift of enjoying your presentation, so we can enjoy it with you.
Give yourself credit for facing what studies show to be the number one fear in America. Public speaking gets easier the more you do it. I sometimes get nervous still and agree with Mark Twain that, “There are only two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and the liars.”
Finding flow is your goal. When I make a presentation, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be. You’re gaining ground when you no longer notice time passing except to observe necessary breaks and start/end times.
Perform an audience analysis before you present to forge a stronger connection: What are the skills and demographics of your audience? How much knowledge of the topic do they possess? What constraints and attitudes might you encounter? What do you have in common?
Put your focus on the audience and forget yourself. Then, bring yourself back in focus when you ask for feedback about what you might have done better, immediately after the session. Happy presenting!
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