I find that when most people stand up to speak, they encounter various obstacles, usually:
- Overwhelming, vomit-inducing fear. I’m not going to cover this specifically today; to deal with fear, you need the confidence which results from applying everything I’ve described in all my blog posts (including this one).
- Mental chaos. This is best dealt with by rehearsing correctly, having good cues, and putting yourself in the right mental state. Again, not the subject of this post.
- Self-doubt, panic over what’s coming next and obsessing over the individual facial expressions of various audience members. Bingo; THAT’S what this post is about.
In a little more detail, here’s each sub-problem within obstacle #3, and how you should tackle it:
Your biggest opponent out there in the punishing arena of public speaking is you; insulting yourself and reinforcing the idea that you’re inadequate really isn’t a good idea (you knew that, right?) Instead, remember that you deserve to be there, that you have the right to speak – after all, everyone’s facing the right way and expecting something. You may not feel very confident – you may even feel like a fraud – but you can step into the role and be that speaker. Remember that you’re the expert, which is why you’ve been asked to speak.
Panic Over What’s Coming Next
Naturally, you want to impress your audience and you don’t want to get anything wrong. However, trying to remember the next bit while you’re delivering the current bit will mess with your brain; it’s impossible to concentrate on two things simultaneously; mix this together in a pot and apply the heat of the audience’s expectation and you’re heading for a disaster. Instead, just focus on one section at a time; enjoy each one, remember that you have a series of cues, and that the next one (such as an image on the next slide or a keyword on a sheet of paper) will be there just when you need it. Be in the moment; connect with your audience. Enjoy it!
Obsessing Over the Individual Facial Expressions of Various Audience Members
Oh no. You’ve caught sight of an unhappy person in the front row – they’re not smiling. And wait, what’s this? She looks bored! And what’s he doing? Texting? THE CHEEK OF IT.
Firstly, for goodness’ sake don’t get hung up on what one or two people appear to be doing; the worst case is that a few of your audience members are not 100% interested. This is not only fine, it’s normal. Stay on target.
Secondly, they may actually be interested anyway, so you’ll feel prrretty stupid if you look offended or challenge them. That ‘bored’ person may be tweeting that you’re the best speaker that they’ve ever seen, or making notes of your utter gems of wisdom and knowledge. Possibly. Regardless, it’s very easy to get this wrong, so put little Miss/Mister Ego in a box for a bit and get on with it. And again, try to enjoy it.
All this sh*t (what a potty mouth, eh?) will de-rail what could be a rather good presentation. If you have prepared correctly, you can bin all these distractions and focus on the now. Nothing else matters.