If Our Worst Fears Really Are Public Speaking, Heights, & Insects*…

…then the least I can do is offer some advice for people who are working on presentations/talks.

I think about this a lot for the work I do every day now at TED, but it was a more direct concern to me while I was preparing for my talks at TEDUniversity at TEDGlobal 2014 and TEDxMunich last fall. The following are some of the lessons I’ve learned through

Ok, so it’s terrifying. Where do we start?

1) Find someone who respects you enough to give you real time feedback. Ideally, they will tell you the points when you are eating your words, stumbling through an explanation, skipping important points in your argument, gesticulating too much, etc. They need to be confident, authoritative, and clear with their feedback. Don’t look for someone who will be too nice and give you unclear comments.

2) Have your selected speaker coach go through multiple trials with you. You should pick something to work on in each round, ideally finding a way to fit all of your performance edits into a routine. Maybe the first time you run through something, you work on being loud. The second time, you work on speaking very clearly and enunciating. The third time, you get comfortable enough with the language to relax your body and develop a stage presence. Each round requires feedback and an eye for detail. Get comfortable with your coach, it’s going to take a while.

3) Don’t memorize to the point that you can’t go off script when something goes wrong. Once you’ve run through the talk enough times, you should have a loose roadmap in your head of where you need to go, where there are some tough, tight turns you need to nail so you don’t free fall, and parts that are more relaxed where you can be more creative. Be gentle with your talk, it will go better that way.

4) You can prepare yourself to weather the tides of failed technology and missing slides. As a speaker, being able to roll with the punches makes you seem more confident and authoritative. Lifehacker published an article recently about mental rehearsals, and there is a particular section about all the various things that could go wrong with technology and audiences etc. when you are giving a talk. It recommends thinking through each of those scenarios and having a back up reaction ready for the impending problem. This is excellent advice. It will not only make you feel more at ease, but when something goes wrong, as it inevitably might, you will shrug if off because you’ll think “I’ve been here before. No sweat!”

5) Remember why you are doing this talk. Remember why you enjoy the work/research you are presenting. Then have fun! At some point in your rehearsals, you will have gone through enough rounds of practice with your talk that you could go through it on autopilot. Now, learn to have fun with it. Your audience will read your expression and body language. If you have fun, they’ll have fun.

*According to the 1977 Book of Lists, the Top 10 things the audience polled feared were (in order of frequency): death, heights, insects, financial problems, deep water, sickness, death, flying, and loneliness.

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