Many people will say that you need to change your feelings and beliefs (the inner game) before you can change your actions (the outer game). However, I believe they are interrelated. You can change one to affect the other. In public speaking, you can “fake it till you make it” to a certain extent. You need to act as if you already are the speaker you wish to become.
The Outer Game
1. Structure Your Speech for Success
Don’t make your speech too complicated! Most people can only remember 3 main points, so try to have only 3 main points that you support with stories, examples and interesting facts.
2. Practice. Practice. Practice
One of the biggest fears that people have about public speaking is that they are going to forget their speech, or that they will have poor delivery. Overlearning the material and practicing will help you gain confidence. Practice from keywords and allow yourself to say things differently from how you originally wrote the presentation. If you try to memorize a presentation and then, under stress, can’t recall the exact phrase you memorized, your mind is more likely to draw a blank than if you simply practiced from concepts and key words. Practice your transitions between your key points as well, to help your delivery become smooth. Memorizing the opening and closing can also help you feel more confident, and those are the parts that people are most likely to remember, too.
3. Vary Practice Conditions
Practicing under different conditions will help you deal with stress. One of my favorite places to practice is in the car while I’m driving. This divides my attention between the speech and driving (you probably DON’T want to practice in rush hour), which makes just giving the speech seem easier. If you have the opportunity to practice where you will be giving the presentation—take it!
4. Rehearse Live
There is nothing like a live rehearsal! Give your presentation or portions of it to your friends and family. Toastmaster clubs are a great place to practice and get feedback on presentations, too.
5. Reduce Risk: Have Checklists and Back Up Plans
Make a check list (notes, water, props, equipment, speaker introduction, etc.) and check it before you leave for your presentation. And, have a plan B. And a plan C. And a plan D. Almost anything that can go wrong eventually will. But some things are more likely to go wrong—technology for example. If you have a PowerPoint presentation, have a plan for what you will do if it doesn’t work.
6. Have Coping Supports in Place
You know what your challenges are. What can help? Do you need some water for dry mouth? Room temperature water is probably best for your vocal cords. Do you need a small towel for sweaty palms? If your hands shake maybe small note cards are a better choice than sheets of paper for your speaking notes.
7. Warm Up
If I am driving to a speaking engagement alone, I almost always warm up my vocal cords by singing in the car, either to the radio or, more often the “Do-Re-Mi” song. I also will slide my voice up and down. I do this to improve the quality and range of my voice. You can also release some nervous tension by stretching your arms, neck and jaw, rolling your shoulders and clenching and unclenching your fists.
8. Meet the Audience
Get to your presentation early enough to meet some of the audience members. Then you will have some friends in the audience. As a bonus, you may even get some material to use in your speech!
9. Slow Down and Breathe
If you lose your breath, you lose your voice. Just prior to speaking, you can do some deep breathing to help calm yourself: breathe in through your nose and fill up your abdomen, hold this breath for 10 seconds and exhale slowly, pushing the air out with your abdomen. Repeat. Take a breath before you speak your first words. While speaking, remember to slow down, pause and take a breath! You can also practice breathing while driving or at bedtime.
10. Speak to Individuals
For most people, speaking one-to-one is less scary than speaking to a group. So, consider the group as composed of individuals and speak to individuals conversationally, making and sustaining eye contact with an individual for a complete thought before moving to another individual. You can practice eye contact when you practice your speech by drawing simple faces on sheets of paper and putting them up in the room as you rehearse. Stuffed animals can work too, although it looks a little silly if someone walks in.
Combine the outer game of physical preparation, practice and performance techniques with the inner mental game and manage your fear of public speaking to the point and become the powerful and confident speaker you were meant to be.