Speaking, communicating – these are things we do every day. So, why does something so innate become a fear when we have to do it in front of people?
Rick Workman, DMD
Founder and Active Executive Chairman at Heartland Dental
Public speaking is something we’ve all encountered – from high school presentations, to college speeches, to important company meetings and everything in-between. As the founder of Heartland Dental, and a leader in the dental industry, public speaking is part of my job. Mark Twain once said, “There are two kinds of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” In other words, I’ve been doing this a long time and in some situations I still get a nervous feeling in the pit in my stomach. When that nervousness strikes, or to prevent it from coming altogether, you need a plan of action. And picturing the audience in their underwear isn’t going to cut it.
Here is a routine I follow to prepare for speaking in front of an audience:
Before presentation day
- Know your audience: Before writing or preparing for a speech, I like to know who my audience is. Who you’re talking to and what you’re speaking to them about could affect your body language, tone of voice and overall emotion of the speech. Knowing your audience will help you engage with them better. You want to talk to them, not at them.
- Make a plan: Create a high-level outline for yourself. Know what topics you’ll be discussing and in what order. While notes are helpful, you should feel comfortable speaking on the topic without them. Also be aware of how much time you’ll have for your presentation. Allot additional time for answering questions. While I’m guilty of letting my presentations run long, a good rule of thumb is to end 5-10 minutes early.
- Memorize your introduction: Want to memorize something? This would be it! The beginning is usually the most nerve-wracking part. Memorize the first three to five lines of your speech. On presentation day, this will help jump-start your brain.
- Practice: Practicing your presentation does not mean running through it in your head a few hours before going in front of your audience. Spend a few days before your speech saying it out loud. If possible, practice in front of a small audience of friends or family. They can give feedback and leave you time to make edits.
On presentation day
- Start the morning off right: Get a goodnight’s sleep and wake up early in the morning. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the location of your presentation. Think ahead – Will there be traffic? Is there parking close by? Running late will throw off your rhythm and cause you more stress. Be sure to eat a good breakfast. You may find that a quick morning workout will help relieve some stress.
- Prep beforehand: When you arrive at the location of your presentation, immediately check your microphone, upload slides, etc. You want to have an ample time to fix an issue if one were to arise.
- Go off script: While you’re presenting, it’s okay to go off script. Tell a story or a joke to get yourself and the audience loosened up. When you go off script, you’re dialogue will be more natural and your audience will be more engaged in what you’re saying.
- Leave them with something: Chances are you’re speaking on something you’re well-versed in or on behalf of a business or company. Although you may be nervous, the audience is there to benefit from what you’re saying. Leave them with something they can take home. Possibly a quote or piece of advice. I like to offer the audience some of my favorite books that relate to the topic I’m speaking on.
When your presentation is over, ask for feedback from a friend or colleague in the audience. Use this feedback to improve your next presentation. If you’re still struggling with public speaking, look into a program like Toastmasters. Toastmasters helps individuals become more effective communicators and leader by offering public speaking tips and allowing them to practice speaking in a positive environment.
And last but not least, celebrate! It’s over – until next time at least.