By: Sara Ochs
For most of us, there are few things in life as terrifying as having to stand up in front of a large group of people and speak. Just the thought of it is enough to give me that nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, send a flush to my cheeks, and make my palms start sweating. But, unfortunately, for most of us, especially those like myself who have chosen a career based in public speaking, this is a part of life we are forced to accept. Whether you have to give a speech at your best friend’s wedding, present at a job event, or even publicly promote your side hustle, we’ve pinpointed the tips and tricks you need to nail your next speaking engagement.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Honestly, when it comes to public speaking there is no such thing as over-preparation. Even if you’ve given the same speech several times before, each public speaking engagement is different: a new audience, new questions, and ever-evolving current events which may change the theme or aspects of your previous speeches. As soon as you receive notice of an upcoming presentation, start brainstorming and jotting down topics, ideas, and phrases. In the weeks leading up to the presentation, turn these notes into a more cohesive outline and pinpoint exactly where you want to go with your presentation. Read up on your topic from a number of sources. The more you know, and the more viewpoints you have on your topic, the more knowledgeable and better situated you will be to handle post-presentation questions.
The Week Of
Once you have a strong outline, it’s time to start cracking. Run through your presentation in front of your mirror, while you’re exercising, or even while you’re in the shower. Once you reach a certain comfort level, it’s time to start recruiting others to assist you. Ask a friend, boss, or co-worker to watch your presentation and give you honest feedback. I find it most beneficial to do this in front of a person you are not entirely comfortable in front of and who you know will be straightforward with you regarding aspects of your presentation that need to be improved and/or changed. Sure, this may be nerve-wracking, but it’s better to make word fumbles and mistakes in front of one person, rather than a room filled with strangers. And, sure enough, once you’ve done several run-throughs, your presentation will seem almost second nature.
The key to public speaking is confidence. And what better way to achieve confidence than by wearing an outfit that makes you feel like a girl boss. Choose the sassiest, most sophisticated outfit you have in your wardrobe, or heck, use this an excuse to get to shopping! Go out and purchase a badass pair of heels, a power suit, or a killer new tube of mascara. If you are confident in your appearance, this will translate to confidence in your presentation. Just make sure you aren’t sacrificing comfort for glam (there’s nothing worse than having to stand up in front of people in uncomfortable heels for an hour).
Also, in the day or days leading up to speech, if possible, make an effort to visit and scope out the venue. Get a general lay of the land – note where the audience will be seating, how you should set up your materials, and what electronic equipment the space is equipped to use. This visit will help calm your nerves and make you much more comfortable when the big day finally arrives.
The Day Of
It’s here! Try your hardest to get a good night’s sleep the night before (although if you’re anything like me, these nights are usually filled with presentation-related dreams). Wake up early, and if possible, set aside enough time to get in a brief workout. Running is a god send when it comes to clearing your head and burning off any excess nervous energy.
If you have extra time in the morning, find some inspiration by YouTubing speeches by some of the most inspirational girl bosses around, like Emma Watson’s speech on equal rights at the U.N. or Amal Clooney’s court argument on the Armenian genocide. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get ready, give your presentation one final run-through, and make it to the venue with time to spare.
At this point, it’s completely normal to be feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and (let’s be honest) absolutely terrified. Try your best to channel these nerves into excitement. By changing your mindset to be excited about the upcoming speech, rather than scared, you will feel much more confident, and ready to kill it.
During the Presentation
Keep calm, stay relaxed. You’ve got this. You’ve prepared, practiced, and at this point, know your material better than any audience member. Remember, while you may internally be freaking out, this almost never comes across to the audience. If you do have a nervous giveaway, however, brainstorm ways to keep this hidden from the audience. For instance, if your hands shake when you are nervous, avoid holding onto any papers during your presentation and either try speaking with your hands or keeping them low.
Focus on one or two friendly faces, but make sure to occasionally scan the entire audience. Keep a glass of water (with lemon, if possible) easily accessible, and take sips throughout. Try to keep a steady pace while speaking, and make sure to monitor this throughout your presentation, as it is absolutely natural to try to rush towards the end of a speech when nervous. Most importantly, remember to breathe, and enjoy yourself!
Following the Presentation
You’re done and you’ve survived!! But don’t let that be the end. After you’re finished, audience members are more than likely going to want to speak to you with questions and comments on your presentation. Use these new connections to your advantage, and turn this into a networking opportunity. Make sure you’re fully stocked with business cards, and follow up with audience members in the days following the presentation. Who knows, your presentation could nab you a potential client or even a new job opportunity.
Also, use your endorphin high to start preparing for your next big presentation! The night of your presentation jot down notes on your performance. Give yourself an honest evaluation and note areas of improvement for next time. And of course, celebrate. You deserve it!
Any other tips we missed? Share yours in the comments!
Sara Ochs is an associate attorney at Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn, LLP in downtown New Orleans, where she specializes in the litigation and alternative dispute resolution of general civil defense cases. A native of Albany, New York, Sara attended Loyola University Maryland for her undergraduate degree. Sara then decided to escape the snow and moved to New Orleans to attend law school at Loyola New Orleans College of Law. As soon as she set foot in New Orleans, she knew she wouldn’t be leaving for a while. She is an avid runner, writer, and travel addict. When she’s not working or planning trips to new destinations, Sara spends her time trying out all the new restaurants and bars New Orleans has to offer.