The Honest Guide to Public Speaking

At college, I had to deliver a group presentation to an audience of about 75 people.

I had seen it listed as a requirement of the semester and felt my heart leap into my throat. I was crapping my pants.

Every single day until that fateful afternoon, there would be a moment where I would remember what was on the horizon and be overcome by a quiet terror. People would surely laugh at my croaky, quivering voice, or be bored to tears as I stumbled through my topic incoherently.

In the week before it was due, it dominated my thoughts. I even had a playlist designed solely to 'psych me up' for it , with artists like Eminem, AC/DC and DMX. There's nothing more tragicl than a pudgy, red-headed Irish guy rapping along to 'X gon give it to ya'.

On the day itself, I remember going to the bar next door to the auditorium and getting a shot of tequila to calm my nerves. Then it was my turn to present.

I had taken the easy way out and volunteered to speak on the middle section of the presentation, safely anonymous. Our pitch was delivered with one of those remotes where you press a button and it moves on to the next slide.

This little piece of plastic would be my downfall.

When it came to my turn to present, I was so petrified that I didn't look at the screen once but kept my gaze directed on my printed notes on the lectern, clicking to move on to the next slide as I went.

Giggles began to erupt throughout the class. Some were openly laughing at me, and I was beginning to get angry. Someone from my group then tapped me on the shoulder. For most of my presentation I had been clicking the slides in reverse, all the way back to the first slide in the show. And I had kept clicking as I went, as all the while the slide stayed the same.


I can guarantee you that you'll fare better than I did. However, if you can't stop the nagging worries about a forthcoming pitch, here a few tips I've learned from brutal experience. While I still get nervous before a big presentation or an interview, the following things help to control my fear:

1. Accept the Nerves

I spent a chunk of time trying to stop the butterflies in my stomach, but there is no cure. Cicero, the famous Roman orator known as one of history's most charismatic speakers, was often so overcome by nerves before giving speeches that he felt physically ill. Accept the nerves as a natural byproduct of you wanting to do well, but also know that most nerves fade after a few minutes as you naturally focus more on what you're saying.

2. People aren't there to expose you.

Humans are social animals. Most of us enjoy the sight of seeing people do well, but we also empathise with those who don't. An audience that knows a speaker is nervous will understand to a certain degree, as we've all been in similar situations. As much as people want you to do well though, they can only stand a nervous speaker for so long before it becomes irritating. The best thing you can do is to acknowledge the nerves you feel, to make a quip about it - this will hopefully not only put you at ease but also help build a rapport with the audience.

3. You're not as transparent as you think.

The 'Spotlight Effect' is a term coined to describe the phenomenon where people (and speakers) think they are noticed more than they actually are. We overestimate the ability of other people to guess that we are nervous, that our voice is shaking or that we are feeling unsure. Whilst we are the center of our own universe, we are small pin pricks in the sky to most other people. In my experience, most of the audience will be too busy thinking about what they're going to have for lunch, or playing Candy Crush on their phones, to notice how sweaty your palms are getting.

4. Prepare

Nothing does more to make you confident, and to get an audience on your side, than knowing what you're talking about. Unless you're one of those people that can charm the skin off a snake, preparation is your not- so secret weapon. Nothing makes you sound more authoritative than having a solid grasp on the topic you're discussing.

5. Have Perspective

Regardless of how the presentation goes, the sun will still be shining afterwards. Your friends will not disown you, and your family will still love you. A bad presentation does not a useless employee or student make.

That's what I've learned over the years. I hope it helps.