4 secrets to fearless public speaking


I used to think I hated giving speeches. I had a bad experience or two in college of flubbing what I meant to say when I had to speak off the cuff -- and that memory of people staring blankly is hard to shake. But these days I kind of enjoy getting up in front of audiences. I didn't develop a different personality. I just realized that you generally don't have to speak off the cuff in life. Almost every situation in which you'll have to speak can be anticipated. That gives you time to prepare. And that's a good thing, because then you can do these things:

1. Run through your speech a lot. Would you be nervous if you had to get up to recite the alphabet? Probably not, because you know it by heart. You should practice your speech so often you know it almost by heart as well. This is the reason candidates and frequent public speakers have a stump speech. The more comfortable you are with the material, the more comfortable you are, period. Even a seemingly impromptu situation, like a toast, can be anticipated. Write a stump toast that you can customize to the particular person in the 5 minutes before show time.

2. Seek out (or plant) friendly faces. Facing a crowd, people are prone to retreating into notes or (worse) reading straight from their PowerPoint slides. A smile from a fellow human being will make you smile -- and relax. Introduce yourself to a few audience members beforehand. I like to stand by the door and welcome people in.

3. Learn from stand-up comics. Comics are seldom surprised by what lines make people laugh. They've tried out different ones and seen what gets a reaction. Try your speech on a small focus group, and refine the material until it works. Bonus points for trying different demographic groups, and different times of day. The post-lunch speech slot is a killer.

4. Think of your speech as a conversation. Make it one, if you can, by asking for audience input. The more you think of the experience as everyone pursuing enlightenment together, the less you'll feel like you're living a scene from a bad dream.

What are your secrets for easier public speaking?