I have always had some issues with crowds. Speaking in front of a crowd is even worse than being in one. That being said, here are a few tips that I’ve picked up after being forced into every public speaking assignment that high school and college could muster. I hope these ideas help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Please don’t chose a topic that you don’t know anything about if you don’t have to. If you have an assigned topic, make sure you research as much as you can. Most of this information will be cut out of your speech, but it’s good to know a lot about your topic. Sure, you can give a speech on squids to third graders, but what if one asks you what the difference between a squid and an octopus is? It’s a good opportunity to impress your audience by knowing a lot about what you’re talking about. You’ll look more professional than someone who is just blurting out common knowledge about whatever the topic is, and if your audience is impressed, you’ll be less stressed and nervous than if the crowd is staring at you and thinking, “Who cares?”
Furthermore, make sure your things are all in order. Pick a file name that you can easily find on your computer. Put all your papers in order and number them so they can be easily identified. If you typed the paper on a computer, NEVER delete it until you’re sure you won’t need it anymore. Don’t be afraid to highlight your notes. If you make a PowerPoint, be sure you grammar, spell and fact check before putting it up for the world to see.
Practice Before Giving the Speech.
This kind of goes in with being over-prepared. The more confident you are with yourself, the more at ease you should be when the time comes. Go through everything. Let a friend watch and give you tips. Don’t try to “wing it” and don’t ever plan to read your speech 100% from a PowerPoint or note cards. Reading your speech makes you look unprepared and a little silly, and it means there are more chances to get lost or mess up.
Before you give your speech, take a moment to stop and breathe. Do not think about what is going to happen. Just think about something calming. It’s too late to worry about what didn’t get done or pray that your sources are right. Why worry over something that you can’t change? This is your time. You’re going in there whether you like it or not, so don’t dwell on it. Close your eyes and breathe slowly, in and out through your nose. When the time comes, go for it.
When you walk in, look like you’re on top of things, even if you’re not. If you look scared, people will know it. If you look like you know what you’re doing, people will pick up on that. Pull out your papers or visuals, set up quickly, and command your audience. When you’re ready, let people know it. When the crowd is hushed, take advantage of the situation. Even if you are scared out of your mind, don’t let anyone pick up on it. Push through your fear. Don’t talk too fast. Stay calm and in control of the room.
For years, I gave speeches by staring at one person. Effective for the terrified, but not a good plan of action. Looking out on a sea of eyes is intimidating, but fixating yourself on one person makes the audience feel disengaged and therefore uncaring. If you absolutely cannot look anyone in the eyes, look at their foreheads so it seems like you’re engaging them.
If you’re nervous, feel free to move around. Keep people’s attention. If you can get away with it, maybe use a little humor to make people smile. If the audience is enjoying you, you’ll feel more at ease and less frightened.
Be Mindful of Your Actions.
One of the funniest but most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done while presenting was leaning on the chalkboard while teaching a lesson to a room full of kids. It’s not necessarily that it looked bad, but that I was wearing black pants and leaning on a board covered in white chalk dust. If you’re already terrified of being laughed at, make sure you don’t do anything that would prompt unwarranted giggles during your speech. It’s okay if they laugh with you, but goodness forbid anyone laugh at you. If you do drop a paper or wind up with chalk dust on your behind, take it in stride. Laugh with the crowd for a brief moment and move on quickly.
Don’t Over-think Your Situation.
“Oh gosh, they’re looking at me. Is my hair frizzy? I bet I have spinach in my teeth. They’re going to laugh. Who is that? I don’t know him. I hope he’s not here to watch me. Maybe he’ll leave…” The human mind is a crazy place. Thinking too hard about something can create unnecessary stress. Half of the time, a lot of the things that we worry about are things we fabricate in our minds. Do not worry about the outcome of your speech. Give it. Don’t assume people will hate it or that you look bad or you will just upset yourself and trip up while talking. If you get lost or get stuck on an idea, stop, take a breath, and start over. No stress.