Believe it or not, public speaking hasn’t always been my strong suit. I would be shocked if you told me years ago I would be a keynote speaker now.
Although you may think successful business people are confident in all that they do, I am here to tell you that is far from the truth. After having conversations with many other entrepreneurs, I found most, if not all experience the same feelings I did when faced with speaking in front of a crowd.
Once I realized the fear wasn’t connected to my ability, I decided I had enough and I was going to conquer it. The first step in doing so was committing myself to face this fear. After all, if you don’t commit, it won’t happen.
As an entrepreneur, I am often asked to deliver speeches. I now find myself giving at least 2 talks per week and although it’s certainly become easier and more manageable, I still find myself getting nervous every time. Thankfully, with experience, I’ve been able to pick up a few tips along the way which have helped me to overcome my public speaking fright. Below, I share them with you in the hopes that you can as well.
Don’t Rely on Decks
After committing to facing my fear, I got a call asking to present a 30-minute keynote with a powerpoint. I worked hard to put together a perfect powerpoint in my eyes with many pictures, very little text, and a story. In this case, Finding Your Why — Why I Started hint®. I finished the presentation thinking it could have gone better. I was nervous and I ended having no idea what the audience thought because I was so focused on the slides.
The next week, I got another call asking to present a keynote for a friend as a favor. She told me I didn’t need a powerpoint, “just come and tell your story.” As if this wasn’t nerve-racking enough, the keynote was the next day. My anxiety really began to elevate to new levels.
The audience feedback was surprisingly amazing, “The best talk of the day.” “Helpful!” and “From the heart.” After I received the feedback, I shared it with my family, and we discovered that talking without the powerpoint was key! I realized I didn’t have to keep looking at slides to make sure that I was staying on track. Without the slides, I was able to focus more on not only what I was talking about, but how the audience was responding.
Understand Your Audience
Not having slides to adhere to allowed me the freedom to observe and understand the audience. It’s important to know who your audience is, what their needs are, and who is listening. You see, my deck (I thought) was my security blanket, but without it, I owned the stage. I could read the audience responses. I could connect with the audience. I could engage with them.
I often receive a pretty vague description of who I will be talking to when I am asked to speak. I try to arrive a bit early to watch and study the audience. I love to walk around, observe, listen to a speaker or two and really get a feel for what the audience needs and what will engage them. What do they care about? What matters to them? When I understand my audience, I always see a lot of positive engagement.
Your audience is giving you their time, it’s important to make sure they leave feeling like it was well spent.
Take Your Time
My typical talks these days last about 30 to 45 minutes with 15 minutes of Q&A from the audience. I have found anything less than 30 minutes is challenging for me. It is so necessary to have an adequate amount of time to really engage with the audience when you are speaking. When I feel rushed, I typically panic and am not able to share my story how I would like. Now, when I speak for less than 30 minutes I feel like I am letting the audience down. Your audience is taking their time to listen to you- so make it worth their time.
Engage with Your Audience
I never thought my speech and audience engagement went hand in hand, but it does! I always start by asking the audience questions to break the ice. Rarely do I have an audience who is unresponsive. If I feel like the audience is stiff, I frequently will ask questions first like, “Who has tried hint?” or “How many entrepreneurs are in the room?” or, “Who has ever raised money?”
Find ways to relate to your audience. This will build trust, creating a better experience for both you and them. Engage early and build your tribe is the way to go.
Speaking engagements are now part of my weekly routine. I travel all over the world, speaking 2 to 3 times per week. I now love public speaking, and I’m good at it. I’ve conquered my fear — well at least one of them, and you can too!