By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
Some of you may find this surprising, but I used to hate speaking in public. It was a voice-wavering, arm pit-sweating, light-headed experience for me. I would avoid it at nearly all costs.
When I started my company 18 months ago, I knew this was something I would have to get over. I tell my clients all the time that speaking is one of the best ways to set themselves apart as a thought leader. It also gives you an opportunity to meet with a room full of qualified prospects after you’ve dazzled them with your expertise. It’s one of the most powerful ways to market yourself and your firm.
But I was still petrified and didn’t seek out speaking opportunities. That is until two people forced me out of hiding. The first was Ward Council. He was looking for someone to speak for 15 minutes about the basics of marketing for attorneys at the Solo and Small Firm Section of the Cobb County Bar Association. Before I could let fear creep in, I said yes.
Secondly, Jennifer Birtz approached me to speak at the North Perimeter Chapter of the Georgia Society of CPAs. Her call was within days of Ward’s. She was looking for someone to speak for 100 minutes (2 hours of CPE) on Marketing 101 for Accountants at their May dinner meeting. Again, before I could think too hard about it, I said yes.
Needless to say, now I was stuck. But I prepared myself, took lots of deep breaths, and even had a few sips of wine before the GSCPA meeting. And I was sure everyone could see my legs shaking as I walked to the front of the room each time. I opened my mouth and words did indeed come out. And after a few deep breaths, I realized I was going to be okay. The ground didn’t open to swallow me, no one threw tomatoes and I didn’t pass out. And here’s the kicker, I had many people come up to me afterwards and say what a great job I did. Me. Speaking. In front of people.
So now, I’m doing this quite a bit. In fact, in the last seven days, I’ve spoken three times before various groups. And the most surprising thing of all is I have grown to love it. It’s fun sharing what I know with people, and hearing their thoughts and ideas. I enjoy helping those in my audience grasp the concepts of marketing plans and social media. It’s a real boost to see attendees start to realize that marketing is a process and something they can and should do. It’s quite a high for me now.
In case there are others of you out there that hate speaking in public, but know you need to do it, I have a few tips that may help you.
Know what you are talking about: One of the scariest things about speaking in public is the lack of control you have over the room. Anyone can ask anything. So the better you know and understand what you are talking about, the more confident you’ll be. And when someone throws you a curve ball, you can hit it out of the park.
Practice: In addition to knowing your subject matter, know your presentation too. Practice it as many times as you need to feel comfortable with it. Don’t memorize it, since that sounds canned and boring. But practice it well enough to know the flow of the information and also how long it takes to get through it. I underestimated that in my first few presentations and didn’t get through all the material.
Don’t just read your slides: I’m guessing your audience can read. If all you do is read your slides, there’s no point in you being there. Your slides should support what you are saying, but not be ALL you are saying.
Greet your audience: As your audience comes into the room, greet them, shake their hands and chat them up. It’s easier to talk to people you know than those you don’t, so make sure you have a few friendly faces in the audience that you can look to if you start losing confidence or just need a quick smile.
Hire a trainer: Many people find great value in hiring a professional (ExecutiveSpeakWrite is awesome!) to help them prepare to give speeches and get over their fear. By working with a public speaking expert, you will learn how to control the room and deliver your information in a way that it will be heard and understood. It will also increase your confidence.
Relax: Chances are you won’t pass out, vomit on the podium or get taunted by your audience. Most people are there because they want to learn something from you, and they want you to succeed. And the little mistakes you make are just that, little mistakes. We all make them, so just relax, chill out and enjoy the ride.
What do you think? What fears have you overcome and how? Any other tips for public speaking? I’d love to hear what you have to add.