Whether you're required to do it frequently or occasionally, there perhaps is nothing more nerve-wracking than getting up in front of an audience in the course of your job. If you dread the idea of presenting to others, you're not alone. Public speaking is actually Americans' single greatest fear -- more so than heights, needles, and other common phobia triggers.
While not everyone is particularly nervous about addressing an audience, let's face it: Many folks out there just aren't that great at it. If public speaking is a necessity in your line of work, here's what you can do to not only survive it, but excel at it.
1. Outline your presentation
Unless you're giving a really quick presentation, it always pays to outline what you're going to say before getting in front of a crowd. This will help you stay on point and avoid losing your audience. A few days before you're set to speak, figure out the primary points you're looking to convey and map out your framework for sharing that data so you don't wind up going off on tangents.
One of the best ways to excel at public speaking is to be prepared. This means knowing your material and having handy cheat sheets on hand to ensure that you don't get rattled on the spot. Remember, if you're presenting a wide range of data points, you can't be expected to remember every single statistic off the top of your head. That's just not realistic.
Rather, set up your reference points in a manner that's easy to access, whether it's cue cards or projected slides, and prepare your talking points around them. Also, practice your opening, conclusion, and pretty much everything else you're planning to say when you address your crowd. Knowing your stuff will help you go in with more confidence.
3. Work on making eye contact
If you're nervous when getting up in front of a room, you may be inclined to focus on yourself rather than your audience. And that's a mistake. The last thing you want to do is come off as robotic when speaking in public, so take steps to engage your audience by making eye contact with the people you're addressing.
In addition, watch their reactions and play off of them. If you see that your colleagues are surprised about a given data point, for example, open the floor to questions. The more enthusiasm you're able to generate, the more confident you'll feel as you move through your material.
4. Get personal
It often is the case that public speaking involves sharing large amounts of information at once. And that can be difficult not just for you, but for your audience, as well. It therefore pays to incorporate personal stories or anecdotes into presentations that are otherwise loaded with data. Stories are generally easier for people to connect with and remember than plain old data points, and if you include just a few, you might break up the monotony.
5. Scope out the space beforehand
One of the most intimidating aspects of public speaking is not knowing the space itself. So correct that by scoping out the location in advance whether it's a few days before your big speech or an hour before, if that's your only option.
Look at the physical setup to see where you'll be relative to your audience, and check that the microphone and lights are working. If you're projecting, ascertain that the equipment you need is up and running. And if you're planning to share a presentation stored on your laptop, make sure your computer is fully charged, as an outlet may not be available (or see if one is). If you can't scope out your space in advance, assume the worst -- that every bit of technology will go wrong -- and decide how you'll deal with it so you're not flustered on the spot.
Getting better at public speaking could be just the thing to advance your career, so it pays to put in the effort. Remember, too, that public speaking is one of those things that tends to get easier the more you do it, so if the idea of public speaking gives you the sweats right now, chances are you'll grow much more comfortable with it over time.