You’re looking at someone who used to sweat profusely, never made eye contact and avoided speaking in front of any number of people. Even talking in a small group made me nervous. But in this picture… I. Was. Killing. It.
My first memory of public speaking was in kindergarten when my teacher asked for someone to stand up in front of the class to lead our daily rendition of the ABCs. I had done it the day before, but shit, I wanted to do it again, so I did. And that day, I stood up in front of my class (again) and led our class through the ABCs.
That was the last good public speaking memory I had as grew up and developed a fear of public speaking. It didn’t develop until middle school – oh, you know, the greatest period of time in every teenager’s life. I was ugly. I was awkward. I was shy. So for me, talking in front of my class, or even raising my hand, was completely out of the question. While the pretty and sociable people in my class called for everyone’s attention, I was hiding in the corner and trying to hide my snaggle tooth.
The only time I’ll show you guys a picture from my awkward stage. // 2006
Unfortunately I never really snapped out of the whole “avoid people looking at me” phase. I became one with the wall, and I was completely fine with that. Kinda. I was fine with that until I realized how much I loved being in the spotlight and making people laugh.
I was in my first public speaking class at the University of Georgia when I realized this. I had been a ball of nerves prior to my first assignment, which was to recite a three-minute speech written by someone famous. Most people picked historically significant people like Martin Luther King and Obama. Me? I picked Aziz Ansari.
So I stood up in front of my class and recited (with notecards of course) a three-minute standup joke that Aziz Ansari performed during his Dangerously Delicious comedy special. It was that first laugh from the audience, from my friends, that let me know that I was doing alright. Even though I stuttered a few times, I didn’t care because by the end, I had made a room full of people laugh.
Since then, I haven’t stopped trying to make people laugh when I present. My goal is to get my message across in the funniest, most informal way as possible because that’s the type of impression I want to leave on people. A younger me would have been scared of looking like a fool in front of a room of people. Now, I don’t care if I look like an idiot. If people leave with a good understanding of my point, then I did my job. *Drops mic* *Walks out*
With more presentations than I can count under my belt, I’ve learned a few important things that I think everyone should know in order to become public speaking stars.
Find your presentation style. Maybe you like to be poised and elegant like Helen Mirren. Maybe you want to be informal and relatable like Jennifer Lawrence. Whatever it is you want, be that. Go online and watch YouTube clips of speakers and presenters that interest you and mimic the style that you like. It’ll help you as you develop your own voice.
Pretend like everyone in the audience is your friend. Regardless of your style, if you pretend like you are talking to a room full of your friends, it’s a lot less stressful. First, it’ll calm your nerves to feel like everyone is supporting you. Second, it’ll be easier to recover from mistakes because like you and your friends usually do, you can just shrug it off.
Realize that mistakes are okay. Everyone makes mistakes especially in public speaking. People get flustered and tongue-tied. People stutter and fidget. Whatever happens, it is okay. People are a lot more understanding than you think, and for the most part, people are more interested in what you’re saying than how it’s delivered. No mistake is too big to recover from, so shrug it off or laugh it off. It’s not that big of a deal.
Force yourself to speak in public. That whole “practice makes perfect” thing that people talk about? It kinda works. The more you practice talking in front of people, the easier it will get because you’ll start to feel more comfortable with the environment of a speaker. They are usually in the front of a room, on a raised platform, holding or speaking near a microphone, etc. These things take a while to get used to especially when you’re in a room full of people. By forcing yourself to speak in public, you’ll learn how to quickly adapt to different speaking environments thus leaving more time to focus on the content of your speech.
Of these things that I’ve learned, I personally think that the first one is the most important. I have presented in front of CEOs, CMOs, VPs and executive directors. I have spoken to groups of ten people to crowds of one hundred people. In every instance, I have always remained true to my style. I like to keep it lighthearted and fun, and I never beat around the bush. I like to think that it’s my honesty that makes me relatable.
And to be honest, this confidence I have developed when presenting is still a work in progress. I still trip over my words and fidget with my hair. But I have made progress from the girl who couldn’t look anyone in the eye to the girl who can make a room full of people laugh. And that, my friend, is what I like to call: a win.