Updated: Jun 22
I’ve been fortunate enough that public speaking hasn’t been a huge issue for me, even with anxiety. It’s something that throughout education I was successful at and received good grades for. However, for many people, it is a struggle.
For people with anxiety, public speaking is the stuff of nightmares. Everyone is watching and judging you. You have no real way to escape it and it’s really hard to remember what to say. If that sounds familiar, then hopefully the tips below will be able to help you in a situation where you have to give a presentation or do some public speaking.
1. Understand the topic
This one for me is the most important. When I was in first school, we had to give an ESB talk (I don’t remember what it was for, but it was compulsory). I was only young and the topic could be anything of our choice - I chose to talk about horses.
However, as this was my first speech, I wrote it all beforehand and finessed the details so that it read really well. Once it came to giving the speech, I basically recited what I had written. The feedback I had gotten was that it was good but it sounded rehearsed. It was rehearsed but clearly that wasn’t desirable. From that moment on, I decided never to over prepare for a presentation.
I aimed to understand each topic so that I could just talk about it. Often in school, they give you what you need to talk about and what points you need to cover, so as long as you understand them, you can talk about them. The confidence in having that knowledge reduces the anxiety you may experience.
2. Try to go first when possible
Often in school, you are in a group situation when you have to give presentations. I’ve found that the best thing for me is to go first. Usually it can seem daunting but there’s a number of positives.
The first positive is that you get it over and done with quicker rather than working yourself up about it. If you get anxious like I do, then you can leave (as long as agreed) once you’ve finished. If you don’t go first, then you have to wait around.
The second positive is that you have nothing to compare yourself to. Yes it can be good to learn from others and adapt but it can also make you doubt yourself which builds up anxiety. We shouldn’t compare but we do, it’s only natural.
3. Prepare simple materials to back up you speaking
I think one of the tempting things when doing public speaking is to pack in a tonne of information in the materials you use to present such as slideshows or posters. It’s important to remember that point of the speech is what you actually say. People don’t want to read a lot and having too much information will either distract them or bore them. I’ve seen many times that people will also try to read off of the slide show they have prepared and that’s not a good idea. The materials are just supposed to emphasise the main points you are talking about. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to use visual representations of what you are talking about (photographs/diagrams etc.).
4. Take note cards with you
When standing in front of a bunch of people and needing to speak to them can be daunting and often, your mind often goes blank. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a few note-cards with you with bullet points about what you need to talk about, not to give you information but to jog your memory and get you back on track. Consider it a safety net.
I never used note-cards but I did use my slideshow titles to jog my memory if I forgot. My mind went totally blank once about some facts during a university presentation. All I did to recover, was take a moment, accept the silence, compose my thoughts and then continue. It worked and I even received an award for that presentation.
5. Look around the room at various faces
When addressing a room full of people it can be difficult to know where to fix your gaze. The way I overcame this was to look at various people, and connecting with eye contact. Most of the time I would address the lecturer as they were the main audience but by looking at other people in the room, it kept everybody engaged and it became less daunting. Rather than just seeing a room full of people, you see one person at a time.
Hopefully these five tips will help you with public speaking and preparing presentations. They have proven to work for me to the point that I feel hardly any anxiety when giving presentations.