Public Speaking: Four Tips to Move You From Chaos to Calm

Public Speaking
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Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Nervous stomach. That’s how many attorneys feel when asked to give a speech. Standing up in front of prospects, clients, or peers can reduce even the most confident among us to uncomfortable middle schoolers. Conversely, we stand in awe of those who command an audience, master a presentation, and make it look easy.

Some of us are naturally wired to hold public court in this manner. For the rest of us, we have to learn to become comfortable in this vulnerable space. And vulnerable it is: just by standing there, we’re offering ourselves up for judgment – how we’re dressed, how we’re holding our body. When we speak, we’re evaluated on not only what we say but how we say it.

With all that pressure, why do we do this to ourselves? The answer is simple: for most, it’s just part of the job. Sharing our knowledge, connecting our name to our work happens, in part, through speaking engagements. It’s efficient marketing and can be effective networking.

Given that speaking is a relative “must,” making it as comfortable as possible is also a “must.” Shifting perspectives, tapping into our natural gifts, and being intentional can help move the public speaking needle from red to green. While the public space is filled with advice like “Imagine people in their underwear” and organizations like Toastmasters, I offer my four favorite (and well used) tools for your public speaking arsenal:

No. 1: Embrace the Suck.

Those feelings are there for a reason. It’s adrenaline. When athletes prepare for a big game by listening intently to music, they’re channeling that adrenaline. They’re getting ready to compete, to perform, to do their best. The same is true for speaking engagements. Let the adrenaline pump you up. Your audience awaits.

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Secondly, you wouldn’t be nervous if you didn’t care. You care about your reputation, the topic you’re sharing, your career, your audience’s experience. None of those are frivolous. If you quit being nervous, you might examine your care factor and then your career.

No. 2: Be Smart.

A speaking engagement is not the time to “fake it til you make it.” The fastest way to settle your nerves is to sit in “the pocket.” To do that, start with mastering your content. The law is complex, complicated, and ever-changing. People came to hear you speak because you know more than they do on a topic. Ensure this to be true: Do your homework. Check your facts. Know your stuff.

Tactically, be 100% comfortable with every slide. Know the point are you trying to make. If you keep stumbling on a slide, polish it until it shines or get rid of it. Your audience will never know you omitted it, but they’ll see your discomfort as you trip through an awkward slide.

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No. 3: Create Lily Pads.

Getting through a speech is like a frog crossing a large pond: the journey is doable, but easier with resting spots along the way. Presentation “lily pads” are intentional experiences that you insert into your speech that help you catch your breath, recharge, and tackle the next leg of the journey.

By way of example, some of us are great conversationalists. Pausing to engage the audience in a short, facilitated discussion over a section you just covered might be the jolt you need to keep going. Others’ interest in history might inspire them to educate their audience on a case or piece of legislation. Still others have great sense of humor, and embedding a cartoon or a joke to illustrate their point energizes both them and their audience.

Your audience is none the wiser to these lily pads because they are part of the mechanism for moving your presentation along. They work because they’re expressions of you, in your most natural, comfortable form. And being natural and comfortable is the best way to tap into self-confidence.

No. 4: Amp Up Your Rehearsal.

I once complained to my personal trainer that I couldn’t master triceps pushups. He excitedly responded, “I have just the thing!” His solution? MORE triceps pushups!

The same is true with speeches. Do more speeches to master speeches. The nerves around them lessen as we become more familiar with the environment, the adrenaline rush, and the power of “sitting in the pocket.”

“Doing more” speeches begins with how you practice. Rehearsing in front of the mirror is good. But your reflection, your cat, or your kids’ stuffed animals are not human audiences. Alternatively, work colleagues, family, and friends are humans who are generally available (especially if there is pizza and a bottle of wine) to listen and give you feedback. Test driving it in front of this kind of audience allows you to break it in, get your cadence down, understand how people respond to your lily pads, your bullet points, your content and you. Most importantly, this dress rehearsal gets the “first date” experience with your presentation and a live audience out of the way, so you are better prepared and more confident for your official presentation. DEBBIE ROOS

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