A pastor I knew, who gave sermons every week for decades, insisted that public speaking gets easier with practice.
Not so much, in my opinion.
But I truly believe in the opportunities that are created when authors physically get in front of their readers and I continue to do presentations even though I still get major jitters in the days before every speaking event. If you don’t think you can face doing presentations, read on for my tips to help manage your butterflies.
#1: Prepare your presentation thoroughly
In fact, over-prepare. Sure, there are some folks who can wing it, but those aren’t the ones with jitters. For the rest of us, being sure that we have dotted every i and crossed every t can relieve a whole bunch of anxiety.
#2: Print out your notes thoughtfully
Your notes should just be an outline of your presentation’s points. Be sure to leave lots of white space, break the text up in chunks and use bullet points. Also, print in 14 point or larger type. And if applicable, keep your reading glasses handy.
Even when you know your topic backwards and forwards, there will be a moment when your mind goes blank. You’ll want to be able to find your place quickly without having to scan through a bunch of tiny print to figure out where you are. After years of speaking, I now just hold my notes in my hand and never refer to them. But it’s a comfort to know they are there if I need them.
#3: Memorize your opening and closing
Don’t try to memorize your whole presentation. This is not a theatrical performance and it will just freak you out if you lose your place. Besides, you’re trying to make a real connection with your audience, so you’ll want your presentation to sound like natural conversation.
However, it will go a long way to settling your jitters if you memorize your opening and closing instead of stumbling over and searching for words. Plan your opening to be upbeat and interesting so that both you and the audience are eager to get started. Plan your closing to end on an obvious high note to prompt applause and to signal that you’re done and they’re free to leave.
#4: Practice, out loud and often
Lock yourself in a room far from your family and get a clock. Give your presentation out loud to the empty room, watching the clock. Do this more than once. It’s okay if you mess up, just take note of the time so you can get a good estimation of how long your presentation takes.
Speaking engagements are usually expected to last a specific time, say 45 minutes of presentation plus 15 minutes of questions. While you want to give the audience everything they came for, you don’t want to go over time. People will start leaving, which is disconcerting and disruptive, and you don’t need that.
#5: Consider an electronic slideshow
Using a computer program slideshow can be a two-edged sword. If you are technologically challenged, making sure that your presentation will run properly can be nerve-wracking. Your host may not be able to handle any issues that arise.
On the other hand, having those slides behind you can be a huge advantage. Folks will be looking at the slides instead of looking at you. And glancing at the next slide will kick start your memory to start saying the appropriate words.
#6: Pack the night before
Using the What to Bring to an Author Fair list, make sure you have everything you’ll need for “in case of.” Particularly, you’ll want a bottle of water for dry mouth, a tissue in case you sneeze and your reading glasses.
#7: Bring an assistant
If at all possible, have someone assist you. If they can be your tech support for electronic presentations, even better. Assistants can also manage the back-of-the-room table where you are selling your books so you can give all your attention to the folks who will come up to talk with you after your presentation. And they will come up to talk with you.
#8: Arrive early
Getting there early is a huge advantage. You can set up your back-of-the-room table, make sure your technology is working, go to the restroom one last time and be completely relaxed when the audience starts drifting in so you can welcome them. Engaging the audience in conversation before your presentation makes them friends and supporters, not a bunch of strangers staring at you.
Truth be told, on the night before an event, I will tell you that I thoroughly dislike speaking engagements and swear that I will never do it again. But if you talk to me right after an event, I feel very differently.
It’s a thrill to have people crowd around to tell you how much they liked your presentation. It’s exciting to make book sales and get a check from the event host. It’s satisfying to know that you succeeded in giving the presentation you wanted to give. Every author deserves to experience this.
Here’s one last bit of advice: Schedule your first presentation at a local senior residence. The director is usually happy to have something new and different to offer the residents and the audience is incredibly warm and welcoming. It’s a win/win!
So, no more excuses! It’s time to plan, market and schedule your next speaking engagement. Take an antacid and start now!