Monday, August 12, 2019

Public Speaking Takes Practices, Lots

I’m dead to everyone unless I try to become what I may be. - Paul Atreides
When you ask Americans what is their top fear, the #1 answer is "Public Speaking," outpacing such other popular fears as death. If you're an extrovert you've got a small advantage on not being terrified of public speaking, but not a very big one. Almost everyone has an innate fear of doing a big prepared or impromptu presentation in front of an audience. There is only one surefire way to work past this fear: desensitization from repetition. You need to present as frequently as you can as often as you can. Let me suggest ways to make it easier.
If becoming better at public presentations is your goal, tell your manager and get some buy in they can help you. Next look for every opportunity you can do presentations to others. Start presenting in small meetings of three to five people. This should be your immediate team you're close with. When this type of audience becomes no big deal, ask those people to invite one of their friends/colleagues that you don't know, because strangers in your audience raises the anxiety and that's the next step to work through.
If you're at all nervous about a presentation, always do a dry-run practicing the whole thing by yourself - video yourself doing it and suffer through watching yourself and remember that you are your own worst critic. If you're presenting to a small subteam, you can do the dry run by yourself or with a single coach to make sure you understand the pacing and content of your presentation. Eventually you'll be comfortable and stop doing the dry run when presenting to a team of five coworkers. When I'm presenting to my whole company or an important client I still do a dry run by myself and follow it with a dry-run to a colleague. If I'm presenting at a conference or a webinar I'll do a personal dry-run and then present multiple times to colleagues to refine the presentation. Ask for feedback from your audience. "I'm working on improving my presentations. What did I do well and what can I improve on?"
You are probably presenting with a slide deck and you can look up a lot of material out there on how to create the most compelling supporting decks, but be warned, most of those articles focus on creating evocative TED-talk style supporting decks and you're probably presenting status at a weekly staff meeting or something much simpler that doesn't require you spend time browsing stock photography websites for the perfect stunning background image. You don't need every little presentation you give to be a mind-blowing work of art; you're just trying to get your point across. What is your objective? Persuade. Present Information. Know your goal.
For formatting grab your company's template (if there is one) and look at your CEO's and marketing department's presentations for guidance. My favorite rule of thumb is the 10/20/30. Each slide should have fewer than 10 words, in at least 20pt font, with no more than 30 slides. Assume each slide takes about a minute present, that's a 30m presentation. You want your audience listening to you, not reading the screen. Lots of words is a bad thing and you can follow up your presentation with a link to a wiki page or printout for in-depth review.
And honestly, that's it. I used to FEAR public speaking and now it doesn't phase me. I am *NOT* one of those people who looks forward to doing it, but presenting to a room full of people is just another task that I am willing to do and worked hard to get good at so I could get my job done.
There are also organizations that are designed to help you get better at public speaking and getting desensitized. So if presenting to a small group of people you know is too much, go check out Toastmasters and you can present to strangers! But be warned, Toastmasters is going to prepare you to present to a large room of people - not that basic staff meeting I was talking about.
In summary:
  • You need to present as often as possible to desensitize yourself through repetition
  • Practice your presentations before you make them. Continue to practice that same presentation until practicing doesn't make you less nervous (you can't practice all the anxiety away)
  • Not every presentation is a TED Talk - don't sweat making it amazing, just be competent (PS, this does not apply if you are actually giving TED talk or something similar, try and make those amazing)