For most of us, public speaking can be incredibly nerve-wracking. What if you mess up? What if no one claps? What if someone asks you a question you don't know the answer to? What if you throw up on stage? (Seriously, you should at least stop worrying about that one.)
But with the right preparation, public speaking doesn’t have to be such a daunting, fretful experience. The chance to strut your stuff and raise awareness for your brand is actually really exciting, especially if you’re a young company looking to introduce your expertise—and offering—to the world.
Here, we outline five steps to take before you get up on that stage to make sure you most genuinely connect with your audience, get your point across in the time allotted, and (most importantly) don’t pass out.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
The benefits of this old adage are twofold. First, becoming comfortable with the material you’ll be delivering will ease your nerves—after reading your speech to your mom, grandma, and six closest friends, the experience will feel much less intimidating.
Second, you’ll significantly improve your delivery. Audiences want to connect with the people they’re watching speak or present, and if you’re reading from a piece of paper for 20 minutes, they’re not going to have the opportunity to do so. The more you know your stuff, the more you’ll be able to make eye contact, throw in a joke, and ensure you pack in all of your crucial points before the buzzer.
2. Know Your Space
If you have the opportunity to do so—like at a conference or cocktail party—check out where you’re going to be speaking. Are you using a microphone? Do you have any AV requirements? The better you understand your surroundings, the more you can concentrate on the public speaking itself. And if you’re incorporating AV aspects into your presentation, back to #1 you go.
3. Know Your Audience
I’ve talked at great length about the importance of knowing your audience across all of the various ways you communicate. But this sentiment is arguably most important when it comes to communicating in person. Your number one goal for any public speaking opportunity is to really connect with your audience. Regardless of how well you address the topic at hand, if people don’t get it, it won’t resonate. And if you’re not getting your message across, what’s the point?
Research the event and check-in with the coordinators beforehand so you know who to expect, and then tailor your comments accordingly. For example, think about explaining the current social media landscape to a room full of senior citizens versus a room full college students. Different speech, right? (Answer: Yes.)
Another aspect to consider, thanks to our ever-evolving digital world, is any virtual audience that might be participating in the event. Is your presentation being live streamed? Live tweeted? It’s just as important to understand this community. Ask what platforms will be pushing out the content—like the event’s Facebook page—so you can further amend your speech to address this audience. And, as the technology behind this can get complicated (especially if you’re planning to engage with your digital audience in real-time!), apply tips #1 and #2 solely to this aspect prior to getting on that stage.
4. Find the Balance
If you’ve founded a content producing business, and you’re speaking at a Content Producing 101 workshop, it makes a lot of sense for you to talk about your company and your experience in the industry. But many times, the connection between what you do and what you’re speaking about isn’t so straightforward. And in these cases, remember that while you want to use the speaking opportunity to draw attention to your business, you also don’t want to come across as too salesy.
So how do you find the balance? Well, remember that you represent your brand, so if you give a kick-ass speech, people are going to want to know more about you. As long as there’s an easy place for them to find you and to learn about what you do (a.k.a., make sure your company’s name, website, and Twitter handle is in your slides or the event’s program), the connection will be made naturally—no awkward, forced interjections of your brand into your speech required.
That said, it’s also OK to find one or two places to seamlessly (and genuinely) tie together what you do and the topic you’re discussing as you’re crafting your remarks.
Finally, make sure to network at the event. One of the biggest benefits of public speaking is the opportunity to position yourself as an expert, so make yourself available for questions and meet-and-greets both before and after your speech so you can strut your stuff.
Really, don’t forget to breathe. You’ll be great!