If you’re breaking into a cold sweat thinking about getting in front of a crowd for the first time – you’re in excellent company.
Richard Branson, in an article for Entrepreneur, admitted that when his coach urged him to make himself the public face of Virgin Air, he thought, “Easy for you to say,” because he was utterly terrified.
There really is only one way to get past the fear. And that is practice. Not practice making perfect, necessarily — but creating real experiences to replace the anxious imagined ones.
As an entrepreneur, public speaking is one of the best ways to get your message, your why, across to the people you serve. Right up there with video.
Knowing and avoiding the three top mistakes first-time speakers make can help quiet the fear…
That way, you won’t make the single worst mistake: not speaking at all.
1 – Using filler words
Um, er… uh, like… mm… yeah. You get the idea.
We are a casual nation. Jeans, sweats, pajamas… You only need catch a part of “People of Walmart” videos (and really, a snippet of one is enough… like, ever) to see how informality is practically considered a birthright around here.
Most people’s everyday speech is peppered with these fillers… In fact, you’ll sometimes see them in my posts, because it’s less like I’m writing to you and more like, you know, we’re having a conversation. 🙂
But in a public speaking scenario, these words stick out like a sore thumb.
Filler words emerge out of a fear that allowing a pause will lose the listener’s attention. Meaning, we’re more afraid of silence than of making nonsensical sound.
But the truth is the opposite: too many “ums” distract, or worse, irritate. A pause between phrases, however, actually gives your words more impact.
So, what to do? Practice getting comfortable with space when you have conversations. And when you speak, practice pausing for a breath before you begin, and before you begin the next sentence…
Gather yourself, bring awareness in. When in doubt, pause.
No listeners will be harmed in the process, I promise. In fact, they may just thank you for it.
2 – Losing vocal presence
What do I mean by that? Pacing, volume, tone…
When we’re doing something that makes us nervous, say like speaking in front of our local networking group, we sometimes check out, mentally.
Our mouth is moving, but our mind is racing: Are my hands shaking? How much longer? Is there lipstick on my teeth?
Signs that you’re not present in your speech… and what you can do about it:
- Rushing. Some of us are just fast talkers, anyway. But what works in everyday conversation doesn’t always at the front of the room, so slow it down. Take your time. Breathe.
- Trailing off. Your volume drops down at the end of the sentence and it sounds like you’re mumbling or swallowing words. The best antidote: breathe before you speak. Be present all the way through to the end.
- Slipping into monotone, especially if you’re reading notecards or slides, or memorized your speech, word for word. My suggestion? Don’t read… A speech coach I know doesn’t even let her clients write their talks. Jotted notes, an outline – fine. But leave yourself room to speak from the heart – the easiest way to nix the monotone.
- Uptalk, or making statements sound like questions…? A common habit among women, it makes whatever you’re saying less credible. Breath support is key; slow it down and pay attention all the way through to the end of your thought.
3 – Showing up unprepared
I once sat through a presentation by a man who had overcome a huge health challenge to travel the world and live his dreams. He leveraged social media to bring his story to a wider audience – and now, via speaking.
The guy’s story was amazing – transformational, even – as his solo quest became a mission.
His presentation, however… had no impact.
There were long awkward mumblings and fumblings, lots of filler words, and no apparent structure to his talk… It became clear that he hadn’t prepared or practiced. At all.
So, it doesn’t matter how good your message is if you haven’t considered how to deliver it with impact. Without preparation and practice, especially if speaking is not your forte, your talk can fall flat. Which is tragic when your content can truly impact people.
So: do have a structure – how you’ll begin, how you’ll end, and the main points in between (I limit it to three).
And practice. Practice, practice, practice! Record yourself, audio or video. Review it for the most common gaffs (see above).
Speak in front of friends you trust. Start with smaller groups before graduating to bigger ones, if your goal is to get in front of a big audience.
You can do this! It only takes once for you to no longer be a “first-time” speaker.
Let me hear from you in the comments below… Which of these mistakes have you made? Any you’d add to the list?