I’d just started working as a casual reporter on the ABC News Breakfast show in Melbourne. I was sent out to a story on the 150th anniversary of the Burke and Wills crossing, taking place at the old Burke and Wills monument off Macarthur Road in Royal Park.
They told me that Virgina Trioli was going to interview a historian from the studio, and I just needed to meet the talent and set up the interview with the crew. About two minutes out from going live, the studio phoned to say I’d be doing the interview.
I was in no way prepared for this. I hadn’t done any reading on the topic and I couldn’t even remember the interviewee’s name. And it was all going to be live. My first live television cross.
I felt anxiety kick in. It was the longest two minutes of my life.
And then it was over.
I didn’t know it at the time, but interviewing is actually one of the easiest public speaking gigs, because in an interview, the pressure is shared.
But what happens when it’s just you on stage or in front of a camera?
Public speaking isn’t some amazing talent we’re born with; it’s a skill. And like any skill, it takes practice. But what’s just as important is what’s going on in your head.
Since my first live interview, I’ve done thousands of interviews on many different platforms, and presented to many, many rooms full of people. These are my top four tips to help you get through your next public speaking engagement and stay out of your head.
1. Be in the moment
Just go for it. One of the biggest obstacles we have as presenters is thinking about ourselves. We start to worry: did we wear the right clothes? Should we really be up here? What happens if we get a word wrong? And that’s when we will make a mistake, because we’re focussing on the thing we don’t want to do.
Keep in the moment and let your worries sit this one out. Try to embody the topic that you’re talking about. Be the conduit for the audience to learn something. Focus on the topic and drop the focus on yourself. The audience is much more interested in your topic than they are in you (in a good way).
2. Improv your script
It can feel like torture when you deviate from the plan. But remember, you’re the only one that knows your plan. So when you veer off the script, the audience doesn’t care. In fact, they might enjoy it even more.
I recently MCed the Transport Workers union’s annual conference and had the pleasure of introducing dignitaries to the stage, including the Premier Daniel Andrews and Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy. I was given a script I didn’t like, so in between guests, I crossed out paragraphs here and there. When it came time to introduce Craig Bellamy, as I was reading it out, I realised that I’d cut so many paragraphs that what I was saying made no sense.
So I kept talking, fleshing out the last key point from memory and welcomed Bellamy to the stage to a resounding applause. Bellamy started his talk by thanking me and saying he’d never received such a glowing introduction. It can pay to wing it at times.
3. When in doubt, tell a story
If you love telling stories, then you may not need to worry about a script.
I recently gave a 6-minute talk on the power of video in PR campaigns. My only preparation was to decide on my three points that I wanted to get across, and then think of three stories (i.e. videos I had made) that fleshed them out or brought them to life. Then I practiced aloud on my drive to the venue and I was ready. No PowerPoint. No notes. There were nerves, but just natural, ready-to-go nerves.
Sometimes a script gets in between you and your audience, but if you need one, that’s okay too.
If you have to have a script, make it dot points you can launch from. Reading a speech from a script won’t show your personality or allow you to share your passion or expertise.
4. Don’t worry about being liked
When you think about whether you’ll be liked, you’re focusing on yourself and that’s where the trouble starts. You’re so focused on whether what you’re saying is going to be accepted that you’re not focusing on what you’re actually trying to say i.e your message.
Chances are you’re speaking about a topic you love, so focus on that and not whether a bunch of strangers wants to be your friend. You can’t please everyone.
Speak from the heart
Public speaking begins in your head. But if you can make sure it doesn’t stay there, then you’ll find that your next talk will feel significantly easier. Focus on your talk, talk about topics you love, and above all, forget about everyone else.
What are your top tips for getting through the fear of public speaking?
Tell us below in the comments section.
Want to get your staff media-ready?
We provide media training led by experienced journalist Tony Nicholls, who has covered international stories and worked for many of Australia’s major news networks. Find out more about the types of training we offer here: https://goodtalent.com.au/media-training/.
Founder and Director of Good Talent Media