Tales of a City Girl

How I (started to) get over my fear of public speaking

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. Things got crazy busy and I got ill (for anyone going through their own winter bug, kiwi fruits and spinach contain TONS more Vitamin C than those lying good-for-nothing oranges. Stock up).  Anyway… I will give you a second to collect your tiny violins and set your faces to shocked-sympathetic, because I’m about to tell you one of my irrational fears and how, if you are the same, you can get better at it. Ready?

So, I hate public speaking. Absolutely hate it. I can argue my point and give my opinions perfectly fine at work – if we are, say, round a meeting table, or casually chatting over a passive-aggressive instant coffee in the kitchen. If I have to stand up and give a Powerpoint presentation, I freeze. It’s like all those people to whom I can project myself as a capable, confident colleague to, suddenly become a tapestry of beady-eyed monsters.

About a month or so ago, I was asked to help at an event on the weekend, which involved giving a presentation to a group of bloggers about what my company do and how we could help them with what they do.  I figured, as I knew what I was talking about, I didn’t need to run it through. I had this.

Ha. Yeah, I did not. A couple of slides into my side of the presentation with a colleague, I had a complete brain freeze. I couldn’t remember exactly what I wanted to say next, and had to pass the baton back to my colleague while I sat in the front row, where I did some kind of weird ‘audience participation’ thing where I contributed to the presentation, while sitting in the audience and kind of… I don’t know… craning my neck to address them while I sat in the front row with them? Don’t worry, you can laugh at this point. My brother nearly wet himself. Safe to say, I was embarrassed as fuck.

After the day though, I began to get a bit irritated at myself. How could I, at 28 with years of working under my belt, suddenly get so worried with public speaking? Knowing I had to do another presentation in a couple of weeks, I decided I wanted to nail it (irritation at yourself and embarrassment can be a great motivator).  I was lucky enough to be able to speak to a public speaking coach through work and the next presentation went so much better. Here is how to get over a fear of public speaking –

Prepare. I absolutely think this is key. I practiced the presentation in front of two of my colleagues who already knew the subject matter so I didn’t feel as uncomfortable. I practiced it in front of my larger team. I practiced it twice at home, on my own, buoyed with rose wine. I practiced it when Dan came home from a boozy dinner with his colleagues (he’s a very lucky man). Overall, I’d spoken my presentation five times before I even walked in the meeting room.

Think of your presentation as a visual aid, not a script. This is one the coach told me and I think it’s great. You know those presentations where someone is just reading off the slides? That’s when people get switched off. Your slides should be quick, pithy, say your main points, but not be something you read directly from. Plus (a tip from an old colleague and friend – hello, Emily if you’re reading…) break up the slides with a slide which just contains an image to help break up the chapters of your presentation.

Start off with something interactive. Again, something the lovely coach told me and absolutely my favourite tip. The first bit is always the worst, so start off with something like a quiz or throw questions out to the audience. This immediately puts you at ease and gets them thinking too.

Know your downfalls and plan for them – My downfall is that when I forget something my voice shakes. I can hear it, and then I think it’s bloody obvious, and I freeze. For those pausing moments I kept a glass of water on stand-by (heavily spiked with Rescue Remedy) to drink from in case I needed some time to gather my thoughts.

Remember why you are there – You’re telling people something they don’t know, which will either benefit or interest them and hopefully both. You’re there because you’re the best person to impart that knowledge.

Good luck! And to all those people thinking ‘I don’t know what she’s talking about, it’s a piece of cake’, you can go away now smug-boots.