I don’t know about you, but I tend to over-prepare for public speaking opportunities. Recently, I was reminded of one of my very first gigs, which began with an email that read:
“I hate to tell you this, but I am really sick and cannot make it to Virginia Beach tomorrow to deliver my presentation. Can you cover for me?”
I received that message less than 12 hours before my colleague was expected to speak.
Having delivered what I considered my first-ever major public speaking performance that morning, I was feeling good. But I certainly didn’t feel ready to deliver another presentation, especially with content that was not mine and not that familiar.
So I said, “Yes.”
I spent the night rehearsing the material, but still walked into the room of 40-50 people the next morning feeling relatively unprepared. I gave it my best and delivered most of it “off the cuff.”
And I crushed it — at least, that’s what the crowd told me afterward.
But I could even feel it during the presentation – people were laughing and having a good time. I saw several nodding heads throughout the 75 minutes, and many of them appeared to be taking copious notes.
Since then, I’ve probably delivered dozens of presentations. Yet I still consider that workshop back in Virginia Beach to be one of my best deliveries. Why?
Well, fast forward to two weeks ago when I was preparing to serve on a panel. I was worried that I had not done enough background research and was studying up a bit on the topic. I mentioned that I was “cramming” when a colleague said something akin to:
You know this stuff.
Just go in there and wing it.
So I did. And you know what? I felt like I got some mojo back – some creative juice that I’d lost somewhere in the last few months.
I tried it again at another presentation this past week. I did very little prep and trusted my knowledge of the topic. Again, based on crowd response, it seemed to go really well.
What have I learned from all these experiences? Well, let’s break down my colleague’s advice:
1. Don’t worry: How often do you fret right up until the moment you’re in front of the crowd, making last minute changes or taking notes – afraid that you’re going to forget to say something particularly brilliant? Stop it. Give yourself a 12-hour window where you just refuse to change anything else and let the material stand.
2. Trust yourself. The audience knows when you and I don’t feel confident about our content. We appear uneasy or restless or frazzled. Rather than using the time before your delivery to worry about the content, start building up your confidence. I often will visualize looking into a crowd of smiling faces and nodding heads or hearing someone say, “Great presentation” afterwward — it gives me a positive energy charge right before I take the stage.
3. You know this stuff. If you’ve been asked to speak somewhere, its’s pretty likely that someone thought you are: (a) a subject matter expert and (b) considered an effective communicator. Focus on the fact that you’re familiar with the material. Often you’ll end up creating mental blocks for yourself if you think too much about forgetting an important point…making it much more likely that you will!
4. Just wing it: I’m serious about this one. Based on my recent experiments with it, try doing absolutely zero preparation for a speech that you’ve done before and are being asked to give again (i.e. if it’s only been a couple months and not much has changed in your field). What I have found is that a different, more creative and spontaneous part of the brain is triggered and I perform more freely and more effectively. It sounds crazy, but you might be surprised by the results. If you’re nervous about it, return to points 1-3 until you know that you know that you know: you’ve got this.
Go crush it.
What are your time-tested, public speaking tips?
Update: I also noticed that there is a public speaking presentation at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit being delivered by a friend of mine. Here’s the description:
Presentation Design for the User Experience
Dave Uejio, President, Young Government Leaders
From giving a presentation to your SES to presenting your ideas in a meeting, it is essential to be a great public speaker. In this session, you’ll learn from Dave tricks on preparing a great presentation, creating compelling Powerpoint and presentation materials, and how to quickly and effectively pitch your idea at a meeting.