Losing sleep over an upcoming presentation for school? Never to fear!
As your in-house public speaking expert (a.k.a. I just gave a five minute speech in my class and now consider myself a self-made prodigy), I have assembled a list of the top tips and tricks for overcoming stage fright to ace any academic, work or personal speeches in your future.
Trust me, strong public speaking is a valuable skill to possess, whether you’re just beginning your college career or set to hit the stage at graduation in less than a week’s time. As an adult, you’ll be expected to share wedding/birthday toasts, business proposals, class projects and personal interview statements, so even if you are feeling like a Ms. Grumpy Gills and don’t want to waste three minutes perusing this article, go ahead and take a gander anyways. You never know when the opportunity to “wow” a crowd will arise, but we can all agree that it’s always nice to be prepared!
- Practice Practice Practice!
In the words of every famous coach or teacher in history (probably): practice, practice, practice! The only way to get comfortable with a speech is to practice enough that you feel confident in your own words.
It also helps to practice at different levels. Begin by practicing in front of the mirror, then work up to presenting for your friends and family members—that way you can find your footing amidst a live audience environment.
- Improv 101: don’t be afraid to go off script
My high school Drama-101 teacher would laugh in my face for offering the idea of improv, but I want you to hear me out: A huge struggle for public speakers is refusing to go off script and thus uttering Umm’s and Uh’s while trying to remember what they were supposed to say next.
Fix this by allowing the words, thoughts and connections to flow naturally. Come up with general points you want to touch upon, then allow yourself to get there logically. The audience can’t see your notes, they aren’t going to boo or hiss at you for forgetting that super cute anecdote about your pet turtle.
- Stop staring into your audience’s souls
In my overly-dramatic opinion, making eye contact with audience members means assured destruction of your speech. When you engage in such an intimate act of locking eyes, you often lose your train of thought or get distracted by the person’s facial movements.
That’s right, the awkward trailing off after intense eye contact is not a figment of the rom-com’s imagination. To avoid this scenario, glance sparingly across the room or focus on a point just above everyone’s heads (i.e. a clock or wall poster).
- Start throwin’ hands
On one end of the spectrum, people speak with their hands glued to their sides in an incredibly stiff position, but on the other end, people go WAY over the top with hand gestures—so much so that audience members cannot focus on the actual speech.
The lesson: Your hands should not be louder than your words, rather a ~tasteful~ accessory. Gentle movements of the hand can go a long way. (Why does this sound like a pseudo-perfume commercial?)
- go first, if at all possible
This mostly applies to a classroom setting, but if you have the opportunity to present first, TAKE IT. Stewing in class as the trembling ball of stress that you are will not help calm your nerves, in fact, it will probably make them worse.
You’re going to present anyway, so why not get the speech out of the way and enjoy the rest of class in peace?
- Visuals are a girl’s best friend
Visual aids are good for two things: 1) keeping the audience’s eyes off of you, thus easing the intensity of the room’s tension, and 2) providing an opportunity for increased understanding and engagement with your work.
Bonus Point: If you lose your train of thought, revert to the information outlined on the slides/poster to get back on track!
- Remain Calm, I repeat, Remain calm
I know you’re nervous, but take a deep breath and calm yourself as much as possible. The audience can take note of your nerves in subtle ways, such as notecards shaking in your hand or the quivering of your voice. Remember that it’s only a few minutes of your life and doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Breathe, breathe, breathe!
In case you didn’t know, public speaking is HARD! Don’t beat yourself up if one class presentation goes a bit awry or you forget to even mention the bride and groom during your toast at their wedding reception. We all get nervous, we all make mistakes and we have all been in the same boat as you at one point or another.
The point of public speaking is to share ideas, memories and thoughts with other people that genuinely care what you have to say. Don’t let nerves or self-doubt get in the way of curating connections with the people around you. You do have the power to “wow” with words; don’t let that go to waste.
Remember: Your voice is a gift—use it!