It’s probably happened to you before. You belong to a business group or organization, or you’ve had a request from a friend, to speak publicly before a large number of people.

If you immediately felt butterflies in your stomach, you’re not alone. It’s no exaggeration to say that you’re in the same company with nearly 100 percent of the population, including the president of the United States, who spends countless hours preparing for his annual State of the Union speech. Former Beatle Paul McCartney, who’s spent his whole life performing in front of millions of people, admitted in an interview that he gets nervous when playing to small groups of people.

Being nervous before giving a speech, presentation or public performance is part of the human psychological condition. Having the complete attention of a large room of people puts their entire focus on the words, gestures and delivery of the speaker. Experienced public speakers understand how to harness this nervous energy, developing personal techniques that enable them to be effective in communicating with their audience.

The following are a few helpful tips that you can use before giving your next public presentation:

Just like the Boy Scout motto suggests, as with almost anything else in life, being prepared for the speech or presentation is the single most important thing you can do beforehand. Be sure you’ve studied the material and know it by heart. Visualize how you would like to see yourself giving it, what the audience response would look like, and craft your statements to meet those high points. If you’re putting together a slide presentation, rehearse each slide and coordinate the timing with key messages that you want to deliver. Make an outline of the speech that covers each main point and practice giving it in front of co-workers or friends and family. Worry less about reading every word and instead, focus on how to deliver each of the main points.

Three-to-Five Main Points
When constructing your speech, map out three-to-five key messages or main points you would like for your audience to take away from the presentation. Less is usually better and remember that while their eyes may be focused on you, people’s minds have a tendency to wander (especially if it’s a luncheon and they’re about to eat dessert). If appropriate, include humor or famous quotes that can break up the initial nervous energy at the beginning or during periods of transition.

Clear and Concise Slide Presentations
One mistake that you’ll see quite often is supporting slide presentations that have way too much information on them. In most cases, the slide presentation should only support the verbal presentation by providing imagery, graphics related to the subject, or key statements/messages to remember. Some of the best presentations you’ll ever see will use only pictures or one-word statements to support the speaker’s speech. It’s important to put yourself in the audience’s place. They’re not likely to remember more than just a few main points, so trying to include everything you’re going to say is only going to confuse them or put you in the position of competing with your slides for their attention.

Pre-Speech Warm Up
Always arrive early to the presentation so that you have time to get familiar with the room’s layout and how the audio/visual equipment will work. Stand at the podium or speakers perch/table and look around the room. Find a focal point at each corner and at the center of the room, so that during your speech you are able to scan the audience and connect directly. Be sure you know who will be introducing you and make any last minute adjustments before the event.

Delivering the Message
If you’ve followed the steps above by the time you’re ready to give your speech, you’re prepared and put yourself in the very best position to deliver your message. Make every effort to follow your outline/talking points or prepared script. It’s important to remember that delivering the message is more important than reading your speech verbatim. Look around the room and find your focal points. If you have a friend in the audience, look directly at them when you’re delivering an important message. Chances are they will provide friendly reassurance. Channel that nervous energy into enthusiasm for the topic. Let your knowledge and expertise do the talking, not that little voice in the back of your head or the butterflies flapping in your stomach.

Finally, always remember the three steps to a compelling presentation:

1) Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them.
2) Tell them.
3) Then remind them of what you told them before closing.

Amongst our many services, the Cooksey team provides public speaking and presentation training, as well as speech writing for executives and key personnel. If you are interested in learning how to improve your speeches and public presentations, contact Cooksey today.

Jason Meyer
Executive Vice President & Partner