I used to be far more terrified of public speaking than I am now, to the point where I agonized over having to give speeches or presentations in class. I even opted out of presenting speeches a couple of times because losing a few points was preferable to standing up in front of an audience. However, over the years, I developed a few coping mechanisms that have helped me adapt. Unfortunately, most of my methods are, shall we say…. unorthodox. So unorthodox, I probably wouldn’t even recommend them, unless you have exhausted all other options.
1.) Wear something distracting, but not inappropriate!: I don’t mean show up to class in a Freddy Krueger costume or a swimsuit or whatever. When I was in college, I gave a few speeches and typically selected a “focal point” for my wardrobe. This gives the audience something else to focus on. I’m not sure what measure of success this tactic had, but I applied it in hopes that people would be too distracted by my hideous wardrobe to care about what I was saying, and it gave me a level of comfort. For example, I wore a hideous sweater and pigtails (PIGTAILS!) for several of my speeches during freshman year classes. I’m talking a grandma-level sweater, complete with snowflake embroidery. It was actually super comfy and I sort of wish I still had it…
2.) If you’re nearsighted, don’t wear your glasses!: This tip applies if you struggle with the idea of standing up in front of an audience and facing dozens of expectant eyes. My nervousness about public speaking gets insanely worse when I consider having an audience. I removed my glasses all through college if I had to give a speech – faces were blurry, but I could still read any notes or gesture accurately to my visual aid. It genuinely helped me relax while delivering presentations. Farsighted folks are up the creek with this one, though.
3.) Improve your PowerPoint game!: I know, most teachers or professors will tell you that the visual aid should not be the basis of your presentation – your words should be the focus, not whatever you’re displaying onscreen. I understand that point, but wholeheartedly disagree. I am a PowerPoint wizard and owe much of my minor public speaking success to my visual aids. There are ways to make a stellar PowerPoint that defines your presentation without going heinously overboard. As long as you don’t add too much superfluity – obnoxious sounds, clashing colors, too many annoyingly long transitions – you’ll be fine. You want your audience to be engaged with it. If I see an audience enjoying my PowerPoint, I am instantly more relaxed while speaking in front of them.
4.) Don’t over-prepare!: I have given vastly better speeches when I haven’t been poring over my note-cards for hours. In my later college years, I stopped using note-cards altogether. I would get too focused on following what I had written down word-for-word and it stressed me out beyond belief, so when I fumbled over a sentence or two, it would derail me completely. Winging it completely is ill-advised, but I have found it loads better for my fragile nerves to just ensure I know my stuff, but don’t try and cram an entire speech verbatim into my head. I also put the keywords into my PowerPoint, just in case I get a bit lost!
5.) Nab an early slot!: If you are presenting in a classroom setting, don’t put it off as long as possible. Try and get in early so you get it over worth, especially if you’re like me and will be stressing out about your speech until the moment it’s over. You’ll be far more relieved watching others squirm over giving their presentations, knowing that you are already finished, than prolonging it until the final day.
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