Four Keys to Fearless Public Speaking

Public speaking is routinely listed as one of people’s most common fears, and it’s no surprise. You feel like you’re isolated and put under a microscope for people to judge and pick you apart – even if they’re your friends!

Now compound that anxiety and stress if you don’t feel 100% comfortable with your material, or if there is the possibility of crowd interaction, things going wrong, and you having to go completely off-script.

Cue the sweating palms and shaking voice. Yeah, that can be terrifying.

That’s why I’ll give you a tip for fearless public speaking on the house (this one doesn’t count towards the four): rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse more. There’s no way around it and none of these tricks will make up for the lack of rehearsal. Don’t listen to people who say you should go up there and wing it, or only rehearse specific parts to maintain a semblance of spontaneity. If it doesn’t make you feel ready, it’s not helpful.

Here are four massive pieces of advice to up your public speaking game and ensure that you get standing ovations wherever you go.

One. Capitalize On Introductions.

In almost every instance of public speaking, someone is going to be introducing you to the audience. This is an opportunity to make your first impression that most of us don’t even consider. In fact, the moment we step on stage is not our first impression – it’s the biography that people introduce us with!

Don’t use the introductions to impress people by cramming your entire resume/curriculum vitae into it. No one cares about that, and you’re probably just doing it to make yourself feel better. Use the introductions that people read out loud about you to become more likable and humanized. There’s a big difference.

In a sense, you are going to talk more about yourself and not your accomplishments. Here is an easy structure to follow: two sentences about your relevant work, one sentence about your background and credentials, and two sentences about your personal life and what makes you interesting and unique as a person.

If you do it right, the last one or two sentences will always grab people’s attention, give them a chuckle, or make them care when they otherwise wouldn’t. They make you relateable, and people will be immediately more receptive.

Two. Always Be Storytelling.

I had a particularly engaging professor who loved to tell stories to illustrate points, and it was quite effective in promoting memorization.

We have both rods and cones in your eyes. Rods are the light receptors that distinguish shades of grey (including black), and cones are the light receptors that distinguish colors. This might seem like an odd bit of information for me to have right at the top of my head, but I’ve remembered it for over a decade because of the story my professor told us about rods and cones.

He told a complicated story about how his knowing the difference between rods and cones saved his life one dark, stormy night when he was in a car accident.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a true story, but the point is that storytelling drives home a point more powerfully than anything else. That’s why in your presentation or speech, you must always be storytelling.

Additionally, the more details you use in a story, the more chances there are for people to connect emotionally and be able to relate to the picture you are painting for them. They won’t have to expend any effort using their imaginations to be on the same page as you, which makes it easier for you to connect with them in general.

Three. No One Cares About You.

Everyone in this world abides, whether consciously or subconsciously, by the WIIFM rule – What’s in it for me?

To put it bluntly, people are selfish and self-centered. To put it delicately, people want to know what’s in it for them to listen to your presentation. If you start your presentation talking about yourself or what you want to talk about, versus how the audience can benefit and about them, you’re in danger of being booed off the stage.

When you talk about yourself or use the public speaking opportunity to indulge yourself in what you want to talk about, you’re putting the movie credits before the movie itself – and people will tune you out. It’s a bit selfish and you are probably not giving the people what they want.

You first have to give people a reason to want to know you before wasting their time telling them about yourself.  Take a cue from Hollywood – don’t do it.

Four. Create Rituals.

Creating your pre-performance ritual is about identifying your optimal state for performance, and making sure that you can reach that point mentally every time you need it. Everyone is different, so it’s important to take note of how you feel to find out your optimal state.

It’s a matter of asking yourself the right questions.

For instance, do you warm up better by being social before you speak in public, or do you need time alone to go over your notes? How long does your ritual need to be to adequately deliver any benefit? Do you like to speak or perform on a full or empty stomach? Do you get nervous and need to walk off the adrenaline?

Whatever you do physically often has an internal effect. Just as our internal reality impacts our external behavior, our external behavior can have a strong effect on how we feel inside.

This ritual has to be personal. It has to be completely about you. Following someone else’s ritual doesn’t mean you will get the same results. Do you need to isolate yourself, do you need to avoid certain foods, or do you need to do 15 pushups to get in the zone?

Personally, I prefer 100% isolation + physical activity for adrenaline + no food for 1-2 hours before. What’s your routine for optimal public speaking performance?

For more on absolutely crushing it in front of crowds and getting a standing ovation as often as possible, check out: Fearless Public Speaking: Destroy Anxiety, Captivate Instantly, and Be Memorable – Always Get Standing Ovations