I remember the first time I was asked to speak to a large audience of about a thousand people. I was very nervous because, prior to that experience, I had only spoken to small groups of 15 to 20 at a time. I had done some theater acting in college, so I was no stranger to being watched by a crowd.
But this was different. There was no cast. There was just me, and I wasn’t performing someone else’s play. I was delivering my own ideas. Plus, I had one more hurdle to get over… I was speaking to an auditorium full of teenagers.
It’s been estimated that 74% of people aren’t comfortable speaking in public. I’ve also heard that it’s the number one scariest thing on people’s lists of things they’re afraid of. Do you know what number two is? Dying! Most people would rather be in a casket at their own funeral than deliver a eulogy to the dearly departed!
It sounds like a joke, but onstage anxiety can manifest in lots of ways and really undermine your ability to engage your listeners. From freezing up to rushing to speaking in monotone, being uncomfortable when speaking publicly can be a truly debilitating problem. And, chances are, at some point during your efforts to get where you want to be in your personal or professional life, you’re going to need to be able to clearly and confidently present your ideas to others in a public setting.
I’ve now spoken to over a million people, and I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I present. I’ve also learned some techniques over the years that helped me improve my performance, but after studying some of the best presenters in the world, I’ve come to believe that your speaking mindset matters more than your presentation skills.
Mindset-based techniques will help you overcome fear, feel more comfortable and be more engaging, whether you’re talking to 20 people or twenty thousand.
Here are five mindsets for better public speaking:
1. Share Your Passions – Discover what inspires you and then organize your presentations around those subjects. When you speak about topics that really matter to you, you’ll be more engaged in the content. Your enthusiasm will be contagious, and your audience will feel the energy! When doing research to prepare for your speech or presentation, you’ll tend to dig deeper when the subject matter interests you. You’ll also be more likely to speak from your own experience on subjects that you feel passionate about. You will enjoy talking more frequently about topics that inspire you, and therefore gain more practical experience in those areas. Over time, this may even help you become an authority or expert on your subject. Any of these results will help you stand out from the crowd, connect with your audience and give them greater value.
2. Be Authentic – I am a great admirer of the late Zig Ziglar, one of the world’s best public speakers. I remember taking many notes while watching him give a speech – I couldn’t wait to try and emulate him in my next presentation. One of Zig’s signature moves was to drop down onto one knee and point to the audience when he was sharing a really important message. It was so powerful when he did it, and no one had ever seen anyone else do it until I tried it… and totally bombed. Not only was it awkward, it sort of hurt, too. That was a good lesson, and I quickly learned that the best style is your own style. Be authentically yourself, and that’s one less thing you need to worry about.
3. Understand Your Audience – Everyone I’ve ever spoken to listens to success radio… that’s right, I’m talking about WIIFM, a.k.a. What’s In It for Me? So whenever I prepare for a presentation, I try to get inside my audience’s head. What matters to them? What do they hope to learn and glean from what I’m going to deliver? Sometimes I can do this by asking the organizer who arranged for me to speak. However, one technique I still use to this day occurs during the first few minutes of my talk. I ask the group to imagine that my presentation is over, and then pose this question to themselves: “I’m so glad I heard Scott speak today because I just learned…” what? I absorb their feedback, and even if I already have my speech prepared, I customize the message on the fly based on what the audience tells me they need. Then all that’s left to do is deliver it!
4. Prepare to Adjust – I watch a lot of presentations and attend many seminars, and one thing that’s become clear to me is that even the most practiced, confident speakers stumble, garble their words, repeat themselves, lose their places, and even forget what they’re saying. They don’t want to do this, but what makes them unique is that they go into their presentations knowing that these little flubs may (and probably will) happen, but they don’t let these human errors sideline them. In other words, they’re mentally prepared to adjust. And, by being prepared, they’re taking the pressure off themselves to deliver perfection, which of course makes them more comfortable. Audiences like to listen to people who are real and willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable. So loosen up and be ready to adjust as often as you need to.
5. The Giving Factor – Giving is one of the most empowering and fulfilling feelings in the world. Approach your presentation with the desire to give your listeners something of value, and you’ll find that the words will flow just a bit easier. Chances are, if your topic is something you’re passionate about and is drawn from your own knowledge and experience, you believe in it, and so your message will have value for others. I probably give as many free talks as I deliver paid presentations. When I speak from my heart and seek to share immeasurable value, I get the same personal reward whether I was paid or not. I also like to set the bar high. I tell my audience before I speak that my personal goal for the presentation is to give them a life-changing experience. It may not happen every time or for everyone in the room, but I can promise you that I always try. It’s also not that uncommon for someone to approach me after a talk to tell me that it was indeed life-changing for them… and that type of currency is priceless.
Try one or more of these 5 mindsets for better public speaking. I’m confident that you’ll improve your ability to positively impact your audience and, in doing so, get tremendous personal fulfillment. You can always polish your talks with a few skill set techniques, but it takes a mindset shift to create a standing ovation.
Photo credit: academyofcreativearts.org