Hate Public Speaking? Me Too, but Here's How I Get Through It...

Friday 19 May 2017

Hey everyone how are you?

This is a post I've been meaning to write for about a year, and one I know several of you have asked for.

Public speaking is something I'm both really good at, and also really really bad at. I know that doesn't necessarily make sense, so let me try to explain.

I've always been a pretty confident person. I can get up on stage and perform in front of 100s of people without a second thought. I like to think I'm outgoing, and good with new people, and I like to think I come across as someone that knows who she is. But like everyone I have my ghosts, my doubts, and my nerves.

In secondary school I fell out with the cool kids in the first year and I couldn't do or say anything without feeling like everyone's eyes were watching me, with that particular brand of teenage viscousness only teenage girls can wield. Suddenly I was torn, I wanted to carry on being me, answering questions in class, trying to make friends, but I knew I couldn't do it without being scrutinised. I'd put my hand up to answer a question, knowing I was right, but loosing my nerve half way through, and suddenly noticing my voice begin to shake. The boys in class picked up on this, and started to sing baba black sheep at me (because my voice sounded like a sheep) and this viscous circle continued.

Now before this turns into too much of a poor 13 year old me post, I should tell you that I didn't let this put me off(because I was a bit of a know it all in school and liked to be right) and that while my nerves made me vibrate more than a Nokia 3310, they never got to me on stage. And eventually we all grew up, and while I'm not really friends with anyone I went to school with anymore, I finished school happy.

And I thought I'd left my nerves behind me. In fact I went to uni pretty cocky about my public speaking skills. I studied English Literature and Theatre Studies, and in my first year, one week I was on stage performing without so much as a quiver of nerves, in front of 50 people a night, and the next I was doing a 5 minute presentation about Angela Carter to a group of 15 people in my Literature class, and I shook so much, to this day I can't really remember what I said.

It became pretty clear that I needed to find some way of taking the confidence I have when performing it and applying it to all public speaking situations. 

So, I'm not naturally good at public speaking, but I have come up with a number of tools that *most* of the time, at least make it look like I am, and hopefully they can help you too.

1. Know what you're going to say

I'm not suggesting you learn every speech, or presentation you do by heart, I know for a lot of people, that would only add more pressure but this is by far the best way I've found of beating my nerves when public speaking. I'm most confident when I know what I'm talking about, or why I'm up there speaking in the first place. If I have a big presentation I'm likely to come up with a loose script and learn it. This might be a list of bullet points for me to expand on or a word for word speech. Knowing what you're going to say means that when you're up there your brain doesn't start to panic, you'll have less 'errr' and 'ahhh' moments and therefore less time to worry about how it is going. It will also give you a sense of authority, which will automatically make your audience sit up and listen.

2. Keep to the point

One of the easiest ways to loose you're way and your audience is by going off topic. So on top of knowing what you're going to say, take a moment to make sure everything you're going to say needs to be said. That's not to say you can't tell a story while you're speaking, but make sure it's relevant. Why are you putting that joke there? Do the people you're speaking to need to know that piece of information. Talking for the sake of talking never did anybody any good, so be your own editor.

3. Be Yourself

A lot of people find public speaking hard because they think they have to put on a persona or talk in a way they wouldn't normally do. While certain public speaking events may call for you to be professional, it's still just a more professional version of you. Speak in a way that comes naturally to you. Don't give yourself the added pressure of pretending to be somebody who speaks in jargon if you're not, don't feel you have to tell a story if you're naturally someone who gets to the point. If you're naturally funny use that. It's all about finding a balance between being natural and being appropriate. Which leads me on to...

4. Know your audience

The biggest reason people get nervous is because they think people won't be interested in what they have to say. Knowing your audience is key, it helps you work out what to say, how to say it, and what level to pitch at. If you're an artist talking to other artists then feel free to talk about your inspirations and your past projects as much as you like, but if you're an artists tasked with getting a bunch of teenagers excited about art that's a very different story!

5. Movement, props and faking it until you make it

Even now I still shake when public speaking. Sometimes it's just a slight tremble, other times (especially if my anxiety is playing up) it's more obvious. If you can't stop it then find a way to work with it. I realised that sometimes my shakes come from adrenalin rather than nerves, so when I''m public speaking I'll move around. But not aimlessly (shuffling and moving without purpose can be distracting for whoever is listening to you) instead I will walk around the space and the stop when I'm emphasising a point. This also gives me the opportunity to engage with people in different parts of the room. I also realised that if I was holding something it made my shakey hands more obvious, so I go wherever possible without prompt cards or props. Other people find these are helpful, it's all about finding out what works for you. Whenever I run workshops around this type of thing, I always point out if I'm shaking, and show people the difference between me standing still holding something and me walking around, ultimately it's the age old adage fake it until you make it!

And there you have it, my 5 very simple tips for dealing with your nerves when public speaking. Would you guys like to see more posts like this? Maybe one on how to pitch yourself as a creative or how to make what you're saying interesting to an audience? Let me know in the comments below and of course if you have any other tips for people leave them too! x
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