I remember my first elementary school speech like it was yesterday. I misplaced a cue card during my speech on narwals, spinning me into a pre-pubescent frenzy of stress and embarrassment. While I loved to hate public speaking for many years that followed, that indescribable adrenaline rush and post-completion feeling of satisfaction kept reeling me back for more torture.
Times have changed. Now it's anything but torture. I've learned to become very comfortable in front of an audience or a camera. In fact, I enjoy it and I teach others how to enjoy it. I've made speaking a big part of my business, traveling the world to speak at conferences on branding and social media strategy. I've discovered that educating people through this medium is the best way to attract trusting clients and high quality projects.
But I recognize that not everyone feels this comfortable in front of an audience. Maybe you'll say something incorrect. Maybe the audience will think you sound stupid. There's always a chance you could stutter or turn beet red. What if you forget your train of thought mid-sentence? This list of nightmares could go on.
But let's focus more on the positives. Specifically, what you can do to finally conquer this fear, based on personal experience.
Confidence by repetition.
As clique as it sounds, practice really does make perfect. When I first moved to LA, I lectured weekly to to a class of 30 or so students on how to build and promote their personal brands. I felt at home in the classroom, building my own curriculum and speaking about topics that I truly felt passionate about. In fact, the reason why my first book was about Twitter was because I went back to my students and asked what the most useful thing they ever learned from me was. And that was that.
Keep it conversational.
If you would say something with another person, there’s no reason you can’t say it in front of an audience of 100 people. The most valuable thing I learned in broadcast journalism school was to deliver idea per sentence. And it goes without saying—don't read off of a slide. You already know what you want to say. Trust yourself. Leave yourself the freedom to speak conversationally about your topic and use visuals on your slides to complement the entire show, like Beyonce does with animated backdrops, lighting and background performers.
Know your audience.
Here's a reality check: it's not about you, it's about your audience. It's your responsibility to give them a window into your world—a mix of valuable takeaways and personal anecdotes or stories that keep it memorable. The ability to read your audience and react accordingly will develop over time, so be patient.
What habits and rituals do you have before giving a big talk or presentation? It might just help someone else improve their game.