Turn a “Pack of Wolves” Into a Roomful of Purring Kittens:
9 Simple Ways to Make Speaking Easy (and Fun!)
By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

When people come to me for help giving presentations, they often start by saying, “I know I should speak more, but I hate getting up in front of people. Can you help me?” This is more common than you know. Studies have shown that most people would rather be in a roomful of snakes before talking to an audience of people.

The truth is that even the most seasoned speakers get nervous. Here are some simple ways to help ease the stress that comes along with talking to groups of people:

    1. Speak about topics that make you passionate.This might seem obvious, but far too often I see people choosing topics just because they think they will get them business. If you’re building a business and you want people to hire you, make sure you are speaking about topics and issues you are passionate about AND want to be known for.


    2. Tailor your presentation for your audience.As you plan your presentation, find out as much about your prospective audience as you can. You might send questions to participants, or ask the organizer some specific questions. That way, you’re able to address your audience’s particular needs instead of hoping that what you say resonates with them.


    3. Arrive early.Give yourself extra time to set up and GET SETTLED. After you set up everything, walk around. Get familiar with the lighting, the seating, the room layout. The little things that seem insignificant when you’re not nervous can cause immense stress when you’re facing a room of strangers. The calmer you are, the more at ease you will be when people start arriving.


    4. Create connections with people before you speak.This is the MOST UNDERUTILIZED SECRET OF ALL! Once people have arrived and start to settle in, introduce yourself. Ask them their names and what brought them there. If they bring up an issue that you will be addressing, invite them to ask you questions about that topic when the time comes. If you’re not going to address their question during the talk, invite them to talk with you afterward. During your talk you can actually mention them by name and connect your message to their specific issue. It’s fabulous. They feel special. You feel connected.


    5. Acknowledge your nervousness, then demonstrate your confidence and expertise.Many people have been told to act “as if” you’ve got it all together and are completely at ease. The truth is, if you try to push through your nerves, it can keep you feeling tense and uncertain. Plus, the audience understands that you might be nervous, and they are actually more attracted to a speaker who is not perfectly polished. So go ahead and acknowledge your nervousness, then quickly segue into your expertise. You don’t have to be a world-class orator. What’s important is that you share the wisdom you have.


    6. Engage with the audience during your presentation.Create interaction with your audience from the beginning of your talk. Ask them questions. Have them ask you questions. (But NEVER give away the microphone.) I recently spoke to a group of trainers who shared horror stories of people texting throughout their talk. When they started considering ways to engage people early in their presentation, they realized they hadn’t set the stage for their audience to be active participants.


    7. End strong.Don’t let your talk fade out. You may have been nervous when you started but once you get underway, you should maintain your momentum with a strong ending. It might be a quote. Perhaps it’s a question that invites them to probe deeper. As the sopranist Dorothy Sarnoff so aptly states, “Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.”


    8. Include a call to action.People who like what you have to say will want to know HOW to stay in touch, or work with you, or donate to your cause. Don’t leave them empty-handed. Make sure they know how to work with you, get your newsletter, or take a workshop with you. They came for knowledge. Give them opportunities.


    9. Make a list. Create a checklist of everything outlined above. It’s a great way to ensure that you AND your audience have an enjoyable and inspiring experience during your presentation.