Unexpectedly, 2019 turned into the year that I did more speaking engagements than ever before.
It started in late 2018, where a friend asked me to speak at an event she was helping to plan for work. I tried to turn her down citing that I was too busy but she was persistent and insisted that it would be a great experience and they would cover flights and accommodations. It turned out to be an incredible decision.
After that, a few other speaking engagements came across my desk at work and since I had some experience I became the best person for the job. Next thing you know, I’ve done several speaking engagements with hundreds of people in the audience. I’ve been lucky enough to present on stage at a Facebook event as well as at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. in the last year.
I’m by no means a professional speaker at this point, but as someone who was somewhat thrown into speaking engagements, I had to learn and adapt quickly to presenting in front of a large group.
Here are a few things I’ve learned this last year of speaking, plus some tips from people who were kind enough to send me advice through Twitter.
Audience members are generally really supportive
Most likely, people are really excited to be at the conference or event you are presenting at and they are choosing to spend their time, and sometimes money, to be there. I’ve loved going to events and seeing smiling faces in the audience and noticing that they are paying attention.
Assuming you aren’t talking about something very controversial, then in most cases, the audience is happy to be there and interested in the subject matter. For me, that takes a lot of pressure off. I’m not out there trying to change minds, I’m just talking about something I happen to know a lot about with people who might not have that information yet.
Breathing is very important
This seems obvious, but it’s painfully clear to audience members when a presenter isn’t taking enough breaths and ends up speaking too quickly. It’s hard to remember in the midst of stage fright, but deep breaths ahead of the presentation and then conscious breathing throughout is really important for being clear and calm on stage.
Comfort is key
One of the biggest sources of discomfort for me with presenting is that I generally work from home in yoga pants and a t-shirt. These presentations were all business attire and having worked full-time remote for almost four years now, my closet was sorely lacking the kinds of clothes required. I spent the time to find a comfortable outfit to present in on stage, knowing that having this element in place would take a lot of worry out of the way on the day of the presentation.
Whatever kind of discomfort might come your way before a presentation, whether it’s an outfit or making sure that you have your favorite type of tea or coffee, or even getting your hair styled professional, I recommend trying to get ahead of it so that you can have as smooth a presentation as possible.
I sent out a tweet before my latest speaking engagement and got some great advice on Twitter as well. Here are some of the tips from Twitter:
Eat a banana before you go on stage
Kristi DePaul recommends eating a banana. She says, “They have natural beta-blockers and will help to calm any nerves.”
Walk when you’re moving to your next point
I’ve been lucky enough to see David Spinks, the Founder of CMX, present in-person and I can attest to this piece of advice. He suggests walking when moving to your next point or section. This helps people visibly note that you are talking about something new now and that they should pay attention. I’ve seen him use this advice in practice and it definitely works!
Remember that no one else knows your talk
I love this piece of advice that Casandra Campbell got from a cab driver on the way to one of her speaking engagements, “my cab driver reminded me that no one in the audience knows what I meant to say, which really put me at ease! Even when you think you messed up, it may have still been great from the audience’s perspective.”
Find someone who is paying attention
This one has worked really well for me. Rather than constantly scanning the audience, Don Hill recommends finding someone who is paying attention and talking to them and then doing that again for the next point. I find when doing this that I’ll sometimes get an encouraging smile or a nod as well.
Drink room temperature water before going on stage
This very specific piece of advice comes from a magician named Travis Nye, he recommends drinking room temperature water and not cold water before going on stage as cold water tends to make you more thirsty.
If you want to see the rest of the advice from folks on Twitter, this is the original Twitter thread. Feel free to add in your own learnings and thoughts, too!