Giving a Perfect Impromptu Speech When You Hate Public Speaking

Your boss just popped into your office bright and early on a Wednesday morning and informed you that you’re making an important presentation to upper management in her place on Friday. She’s forced to go out of town for a family emergency and you’re the only one in the department that knows enough about this particular project to talk about it. She knows you hate public speaking and apologizes, gives you a big smile, says you’ll do fine and plops her speech notes down on your desk … and it’s a BIG file.

Two minutes after she leaves your office, you feel like losing your breakfast into your trashcan. It’s hard enough for you to speak up in front of your peers in the department. But screw up a presentation in front of the big bosses, or the company’s most important client, and your life on this mortal coil will become a thousand times more stressful. Most of all, you don’t want to let your boss down.

Why Are People Afraid of Public Speaking?

There are dozens of reasons people give, but fear of public speaking boils down to the following five reasons for most people. They fear it because:

  1. They don’t want to make mistakes
  2. They’re afraid of what others will think of them.
  3. Having people watching their every move is terrifying
  4. Some unexpected glitch might ruin all their work
  5. They don’t want to risk their reputation

It might not make you feel better at the moment, but your public speaking phobia is shared by most of your fellow human beings. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that three out of every four people suffer from public speaking anxiety. Honestly, that’s probably a low figure. While many people suffer from a higher level of anxiety, even the greatest public speaking pros admit that they get butterflies before every speech too. The difference between you and them is they channel that nervousness into positive energy that makes their talks dazzle.

Here are five more pieces of advice for giving a terrific speech or presentation, no matter if you’ve got 48 hours or 48 days to prepare.

1. Involve the Audience!

Just reciting information without substance to your audience will make an impression on them … and it won’t be good! In fact, at best you’ll put them to sleep and at worst, make them angry at you for wasting their time. You’re giving a presentation for a reason. Think about the action you want your audience to take immediately after your talk and provide actionable steps for them to do it. Even if your talk is simply an informative update on a project like in our example above, you’re still trying to persuade those executives that everything is going smoothly and they shouldn’t worry. That can only happen if you grab their attention.

2. Don’t Lecture … Tell a Story

Lectures are boring information dumps that you suffered through in high school and college, but your presentation isn’t. In the scenario above, you’re telling the story of how your department project has come together or overcame an unexpected challenge that threatened it. People’s brains are hardwired to prefer stories that they can relate to. Your trick is to find the parts of your presentation that can trigger positive responses in others.

3. Imagine the Friendliest Audience

A long-standing piece of advice for years said to feel more comfortable on stage, imagine your audience in nothing but their underwear. That was supposed to take some of the fear factor away. If that works for you, then go for it. But, a better method is to imagine that your audience is already on your side. Unless you’re giving a pro-green energy speech to coal miners in West Virginia, your audience wants you to succeed. Have you ever been in the audience when the speaker has bombed? Awkward and uncomfortable are the two words that come to mind most in that situation. How differently would you prepare and act if you knew your audience was made up of friendly and supportive people? Now write your speech with that in mind. It works.

4. Keep it Simple

Remember back in school when you wrote a research paper? You usually began with a thesis statement that perfectly summarized what you were going to write about in one or two neat sentences. You need to do the same with your presentation. Experts believe that audiences will only remember about 25% of your presentation no matter how good it is. Therefore, boil everything down to one declarative statement that captures your point exactly.

Additionally, if you don’t have much time to prepare, it is much easier to memorize your main point plus two or three pieces of supporting evidence than trying to remember your presentation materials verbatim. This sense of purpose and direction will help you and your audience focus on the message.

5. Get Rid of Filler Words and Phrases

“I’d just like to,” “sort of,” or “kind of” These kind of words and phrases are speech killers. They may be fine in everyday conversation but they will rob your speech of all power and timing. Try recording yourself and seeing if you are peppering your speech with useless phrases and limp words. Here’s an important and critical tip that nervous speakers always forget or worse, ignore, while giving a speech: Silence is OK! If you lose your place or train of thought while speaking … just pause. Don’t apologize or make excuses. Just take a deep breath and refocus. If you’re really stuck, simply ask your audience if they have any questions about anything you have said. Most of the time, if they do, it automatically kick starts your brain and gets you back on the right path.

Giving a presentation does not have to be a fate worse than death. With these simple steps, you’ll be wowing them in no time no matter how much time you had to prepare.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.