Public Speaking is the number one fear - above death and going crazy. There's that old joke - Seinfeld I believe - that at a funeral, guests would rather be the one in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy. Extreme stuff.

I recently attended a (mandatory) public speaking seminar as part of my design curriculum for school. I wasn't all that excited or nervous because I consider myself a decent public speaker, and at times can even enjoy it - I think I work well under pressure. That being said, I am petrified of singing in public, although I love to sing. I found these tips useful for any situation, not just public speaking. Use them as you will. Thanks goes to the excellent speaker who articulated these tips so well - I will attempt to do her justice and paraphrase them below.

  1. Find, focus on and hang on to your own reasons for doing the presentation.
    Why are you up there? Is it for the marks? Because your company made you do it? Because you want this client to buy your stuff? All reasons, but all reasons based around the audience. Do it because you want to share your knowledge, or because you think your product deserves recognition. But decide why it is important to you, and hold that thought when you start to get preoccupied with what they are thinking.
  2. Accept your fear. Admit to yourself that you're afraid - don't try to fake it.
    There are four ways we deal with fear:
    • denial("I'm not afraid!")
    • avoidance (using every way possible to avoid public presentations)
    • fighting (steamrolling your fear - not allowing it to matter or be acknowledged)
    • acceptance (working with it)
    To try and fight our fear of public speaking is to deny the audience our true selves. It's alot harder to pretend you love being in front of a mic than admitting you're a little nervous to the audience.
  3. Stand tall and recall your strengths.
    Public Speaking makes us feel inadequate. It shrinks us mentally and physically. Consciously straighten your back, stand tall, and remember everything that makes you intelligent, valuable, and capable.
  4. Be natural. Be yourself. Be the kind of speaker that you are as a person.
    If you're not articulate in reality, you won't become one when speaking in public. Remember that the audience wants to see you - if they merely wanted the information you are giving them, they would read it in an article or on a website. You, as a presenter, are what is valuable in the setting.
  5. Like who you are. Accept every part of yourself.
    Don't be worried that somebody will think you are boring - because you are. But why should that matter to you? You can be boring, incompetent, inarticulate - at times. You can also be confident, strong, and sensitive. And besides, you're doing this for your own reasons, remember?
  6. Be prepared, organized, and in control of your material.
  7. Be interested, or believe in what you've got to say.
    If you're excited, your listeners will get excited. If you don't care, why should they?
  8. Make a connection with the audience.
    Smile, make eye contact, be welcoming. And they will respond in turn.
  9. Include a personal experience, story or comment at the beginning of your speech.
    This is good for a couple of reasons. First of all, it helps you remember yourself - and the fact that you (and all your characteristics) are what will make the speech valuable. It also humanizes you - makes you somebody the audience can more readily identify with.
  10. Remember to breathe.

Good luck. Some of the points may seem self-explanatory - and yet how often do we really employ all of them effectively? These are not just rules for a speech; they are guidelines for effective communication. Try remembering these the next time you meet somebody new and see how they change your fears, assumptions, and first impression.