Some Public Speaking Tips from a Shy Person Who Has Learned to Love Public Speaking

Some Tips for the Days Leading up to the Speech

  • PREPARE, PREPARE, and PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Nothing is more important than this and nothing will make more of a difference. I try to have my speech written at least a few days before I’m giving the speech, and if possible, a week or two.  This gives me lots of time to practice speaking it aloud. With each practice run, I revise the speech a little. And with each practice run, the speech becomes part of my speaking memory and my muscle memory.  I know from experience that if you have practiced often, calmly in your kitchen, the way you want to say a speech, then on the day of the speech, you can shake and jitter your way through that entire speech and still have it come out sounding the way you practiced it, so much so that people will come up to you afterward and tell you that they wished they could be so calm and composed while giving a speech.  (You should probably try not to burst into hysterical laughter when someone says this to you.) So. PREPARE and PRACTICE. Your speech will become an act your body knows how to pull off no matter how you feel.  (And you’ll be less nervous, too, because you’ll feel prepared!)
  • Don’t underestimate the time it’ll take you to write the speech.  In my experience, a 60-minute speech is 30-40 pages long and takes me a good week to write. A 15-minute speech is about eight pages long and takes me a good two days.
  • Think about the speeches you’ve heard and liked.  Why did you like them?  For me, it’s often as much to do with the presentation as with the information.  If I’m talked to, my attention is engaged, but if I’m read to, my mind starts to wander. So — try to keep a conversational tone.  When I write a speech, I write the “hms” and “like, whatevers,” and “sos” and “anyways” into the speech wherever they fall naturally — all the little things that make it sound like conversation (and that you’d probably be taught never EVER to say, were you taking a public speaking class!). When I’m practicing and giving the speech, my actual “hms” and “likes” and so on don’t necessarily happen in the same places as I’ve written them, but their presence in the written speech reminds me of the tone I’m going for.  I don’t care how scared to death I am — I don’t want to sound stiff while I’m speaking — I want to sound like a person who’s alive and relaxed!
  • Along the same lines, I write little silly notes to myself, in pen, in the margins of my speech.  Things like, “RELAX” or “PAY ATTENTION” or “SLOW DOWN HERE” or “DON’T SOUND ANGRY HERE” or whatever note will remind me of the tone I’m going for at any particular point.  I see the notes in my peripheral vision, and they help me.
  • Trust that the speech will be more interesting to other people than it is to you.  Other people?  Have not written your novel.  (Or whatever.)  So ignore the voices telling you that this story of how you wrote your novel is going to bore your audience to tears.  If they write novels, they’ll probably find a lot to relate to.  And if they don’t write novels, they may just find it fascinating.
  • Try to remind yourself that how you feel as you contemplate speech-giving in the days leading up to the speech — nauseated, doomed, and hiding under the covers — is NOT how you will feel while you’re giving the speech. How you feel in the hours leading up to the speech — jumping at every sound, jittery and wild-eyed ^_^ — is not how you’ll feel while you’re giving the speech, either.  Once you get started, you’re going to be JUST FINE.  And if you’re not (for example, sometimes it takes me 10 minutes to relax into a speech, and if it’s a 12-minute speech, that means I’m a nervous wreck for most of the speech) — your preparation will pull you through.  This speech will not kill you!  I swear! 

 Some Tips for Speech Day

  • Bring a pen (or some such — a flag? a plant? ^_^) to the podium and hold it.  Try to remember to gesticulate with it.  Having relaxed hands, and moving around a little, will help you to relax.  For me, the pen is a reminder of this.
  • As you’re standing there giving your speech — don’t miss your own speech.  PAY ATTENTION to your own words.  Act like you’re really into what you’re saying, even if all you are is scared.  A couple of margin notes I write all over my speech: “PAY ATTENTION” and “HEAR WHAT YOU ARE SAYING.”
  • If, like I do, you have a soft voice, let it be soft.  The mike is there for a reason; it will project your voice; and you’ll be calmer if you aren’t trying to force your voice to a volume it wasn’t made for. 
  • Forgive yourself.  You don’t have to be brilliant.  You don’t have to win the prize for public speaking.  You’ve probably been asked to speak because the people in this audience are already primed to like you.  Most audiences are generous and kind and want you to do well, and they aren’t going to think badly of you if you seem a little nervous.  Do whatever you can to get some perspective.  Think of how big the earth is and how little and unimportant your speech is in the grand scheme of things.  Imagine that someone you love who is a calming influence is holding your hand.  BREATHE.  Here is a piece of advice a friend gave me once before a big trip in which I was going to give a lot of presentations and was scared to death (I blogged this once before, in another post about dealing with appearance anxiety):  “Throw pleasing everyone out the window. Throw pleasing anyone out the window. Just do things for yourself. Just be you. There is no way on earth that just being you is not enough — just being you is galaxies more than enough.”

The more you do this, the easier it gets.  One day, you may discover that you kind of, sort of love it. 

Good luck :o)

(Oh! And for those of you who weren’t blog reading during the holiday weekend: I posted my Walden Award remarks and they are here.)