Public speaking doesn’t come natural to anyone, and I’m not sure anyone actually enjoys doing it (if they do, they may be lying!). As a very introverted person, I really struggle with presentations or speaking to large groups. I tend to get really nervous, talk really fast, and not say enough, just to get it over with.
I frequently present designs as a part of my job, sometimes to celebrities and executives, so it’s something I’ve really had to work on over the course of my career! I have to say, I’ve gotten better at at! I wanted to share some of the things that helped me the most.
Prepare: One of the biggest things that I still do is jot down notes ahead of time. This helps me articulate my key points and craft them into thoughtful sentences, instead of trying to think on the spot. For me, writing it down helps me remember what I want to say, and I often don’t even look at my notes while speaking. It does give me peace of mind to know they’re there if I need them! I also try to anticipate any challenges or questions someone may have, and prepare responses to those as well.
Be Yourself: For a long time, I tried to be really professional and really formal in any type of presentation setting. I think this made me more nervous, because I felt like I was acting, instead of just speaking as myself. Now, I’m not afraid to show my personality when I speak. If it fits in telling the story, I’ll add in a little anecdote or bit of humor to lighten the mood. Being yourself also helps the audience feel at ease, like you’re just having a conversation.
Forget Who is There: Recently, I presented in Zoom call to a meeting full of high level leaders at my work. Instead of focusing on who was there and how scary it was, I just focused on the information that I had to share, and acted like I was just sharing to my peers. It helped keep me from feeling intimidated or panicking! I didn’t even look at the attendees beforehand, because I didn’t want to focus my energy on who was in the room.
Remember the Audience is Engaged: Its also helpful to remember that when you are presenting, most people are actually interested in what you are sharing. No one is there to try to pick you apart (even if there is a challenge to what you share). If you say a word wrong and think it’s all anyone will remember, most people probably won’t even notice it. There have been times where I bombed a presentation in my mind, and then other people told me it was great and didn’t even remember the parts I thought were awful!
Listen to Feedback: If someone does offer feedback on a presentation, listen to them! Maybe you spoke too fast, maybe you didn’t speak loud enough, maybe you didn’t give enough context. Thank them for their feedback and think of ways to improve for next time. It’s easy to get defensive and just say “I’m not good at this”, but that’s not going to help you improve!
Practice: Obviously, practice makes perfect. The more you do something, the less scary it becomes, and the better you get at it. I worked with my leaders and peers to seek out more opportunities to present at work, and found that lots of people are willing to let you step in and share! I wasn’t always the greatest at it, but I continued to use the above strategies and grow!
Practice Outside of Work: I also sought places to “present” or lead conversations outside of work. Doing things like coaching a elementary school girls running club helped me practice articulating information in a different setting. Sometimes presenting to a team of 3rd graders is more challenging than a room of executives! It also helped me practice staying on track, and recovering after a distraction or off track conversation. The more you practice, the more confident you become in your ability to lead in any setting.
Although it’s still sometimes scary, I feel much more confident presenting than I used to. I also know the quality of what I present and my engagement with an audience has greatly improved. Just last week, a peer told me I was “so good at leading a meeting” and it was shocking since this has never been a strength of mine! Putting in the practice does really help!