I wrote another post on MadGirl PR last week about my very first professional presentation. It went a little something like this: There are exactly two things I'm terrified of. Well, three, actually: butterflies, dead deer and public speaking. Don't ask about the first two, but public speaking, oh boy. I'm seriously sweating just thinking about it.
I took a public speaking course in college where we had to videotape each of our presentations, then critique ourselves. I liken this to some form of journalistic torture. It's bad enough to stand up there in front of your peers (like the good-looking guy from down the hall), but then to watch yourself do it? Why? Why is this happening? But I digress.
I'm not alone in my fear, I know this. Raise your hand if you've lost sleep over an upcoming presentation. [peeks around the internet] Yes, hi. I see you. Welcome.
This was me a few months ago. My boss, bless his heart, volunteered my soul for a public speaking gig. It was a luncheon in Illinois for an advertising group. Because it's how I do, I spent about two months panicking and avoiding preparation like the plague. It was exactly three days before the presentation that I sat down to consider what I'd say.
The topic was easy -- how to use social media to benefit your business. SOMETHING I KNOW! It's my job to make social media benefit businesses. So that's my first tip:
1. Know your subject.
Being familiar with your topic is a must. Particularly if you're so terrified to speak in front of a group of people that you'll likely forget everything you know anyway. My fear is irrational. I've said before that I'd be nervous to stand in front of a group of my own friends to talk about cats (my first true love, if we're being honest). So at least find comfort in knowing your subject. You're the authority. You know everything. Or at least act like you do.
Thankfully, this is a success story, evidenced by the fact that I am, in fact, still alive and writing this blog post. I showed up early to the venue to get my bearings, chit chat with the group as they started filing in, and locate each and every escape route, which brings me to Tip No. 2:
I can't properly express how helpful this was. I may be outspoken and quirky, mayhaps a bit mouthy, on the internet, but in real life I'm a total recluse. Shy. I steer clear of awkward small talk with strangers. Apparently I took "stranger, danger" to heart as a child, and at 30-years-old I'm still hanging on like a lunatic. But mingling with this group of 25 to 30 strangers before presenting to them helped me open up. I let down the smallest bit of my Wall of Terror.
Rather than the ferocious monsters I assumed they'd be, ready to attack me at my most vulnerable, they were really rather delightful. I dare say I felt comfortable. But in order to feel fully comfortable, I offer this advice:
3. Be yourself.
Now, let me offer a caveat here. Know your audience before being fully yourself, particularly if yourself is, shall we say, horrifying. I like to think I'm less-than-horrifying, so I felt comfortable being me. I didn't present with a stiff demeanor, wearing my "professional face." Sure, I can naturally be professional, but I can also do so in a way that's relaxed and fun.
Let your guard down. Your audience will likely appreciate it. Laugh, offer up a bit of self-deprecating humor (believe it or not). You're human. You know it, they know it. I actually opened up with an anecdote about how terrified I was to be there. People laughed, the atmosphere loosened. I talked to them as though I was talking to a roomful of friends, even though I wasn't talking about cats. Unfortunately. Which leads me to my final survival tip:
4. Have a conversation.
No one wants to be talked at. It's bad enough to sit through a luncheon presentation when there are likely 9 different places you'd rather be. Especially if it's boring as hell. So engage your audience. Ask questions, answer theirs. Make them laugh. Not funny? Try harder. Or talk about cats. You guys think I'm kidding with this cat business, don't you?
Your entire presentation doesn't have to be full of facts and stats and matter-of-fact drivel. In fact, please don't. For the sake of mankind. You're a young (hip) professional, and a bad ass one at that. Act like it.
And remember this: YOU WILL NOT DIE. You won't. It's science. If you do, take it up with me later. When it's over, people will smile and clap and tell you how absolutely wonderful you were, and next thing you know, you're hosting American Idol. Or so I heard. Probably.
Bring your smarts, bring yourself, and if you can, bring your cat. Take a deep breath and go.