Gallo Pinto Made Me a Better Public Speaker
In 2008, on a mid-summer morning in Costa Rica, I found myself fearfully perched on the edge of a massive stage. In front of me was a giant screen displaying the PowerPoint presentation, which was about to start rolling the opening content of my presentation. And behind me were 350 people from all over the world, waiting to hear what I had to say. I wish I could tell you I was a better public speaker.
I was the first person to speak at that event.
My speech started as usual, with a few minutes of butterflies in my stomach and a dry mouth. But soon enough, I got into the flow and started enjoying myself. The audience was laughing at my jokes and seemed to be listening intently to what I had to say.
Halfway through my presentation, however, something went wrong.
The PowerPoint presentation suddenly stopped working. My laptop had frozen and I had no way of fixing it. For a few moments, I stood there on stage, not knowing what to do. The audience was waiting for me to continue, but I didn’t know-how.
I could have panicked at that moment. I could have frozen up completely and made a complete fool of myself. But instead, I took a deep breath and improvised the rest of my presentation.
And it went great!
After that experience, I realized that public speaking is not about having everything perfect. It’s about being able to think on your feet and handle whatever situation comes your way. However, you cannot foresee everything that might happen, so it’s important to have some techniques in your back pocket to help you out. In fact, if you are prepared, you are likely to access those parts of your brain containing short/long term memories. It’s safe to say that my nerves were shot. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might leap out of my chest. The only thing going through my mind was: “Don’t screw this up.”
Fortunately, I didn’t. But it wasn’t because I’m some sort of natural-born public speaker. It’s because I had prepared myself using three key techniques that you can use to become a better public speaker, too.
3 Techniques to Become a Better Public Speaker
#1 Know Your Audience
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people try to wing it when it comes to public speaking. They choose a topic they’re passionate about and then hope that their enthusiasm will be enough to carry the day. But that’s not how it works. You need to know what your audience wants to hear before you even start talking. To find out what your audience wants, you need to do some research. Talk to people in your target market and find out what their pain points are. What are they struggling with? What do they want to learn more about? Once you know what your audience wants, you can give them exactly that.
In a speech by former President Barack Obama, he talks about how he was able to connect with his audience on a personal level. He did this by sharing stories from his own life that related to the topic of his speech. By doing so, he was able to show his audience that he understood their struggles. And when you can show your audience that you understand them, they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Moreover, when you know your audience, you can also tailor your message to their needs. You can use language that they understand and make sure that your points are relevant to them. Tailoring your message will make it more likely that your audience will listen to what you have to say and take action on what you’re talking about.
#2 Memorize the Material
The second technique is to memorize your material. This may seem like overkill, but trust me, it’s worth it. You don’t need to memorize every word, but you should have a good understanding of the main points you want to get across. That way, even if you get nervous and start to blank out, you’ll still be able to hold onto the thread of your presentation and deliver something that’s valuable to your audience.
To memorize your material, you need to understand it inside and out. That means you can’t just read it once and expect to have it all memorized. You need to read it, reread it, and then practice saying it out loud. The more times you go over the material, the better chance you have of being able to recall it when you need to.
It’s also helpful to create an outline of your presentation. This will give you a roadmap to follow so you don’t get lost along the way. And if you do happen to blank out, you can always refer back to your outline to help you get back on track. According to neuroscientist and memory expert Dr. Yana Weinstein, “When you create an outline, you are effectively creating a scaffold for your memories.” So if you want to be able to recall your material when it matters most, create an outline and refer to it often.
“I am interested in a lot of things – not just show business and my passion for animals. I try to keep current in what’s going on in the world. I do mental exercises. I don’t have any trouble memorizing lines because of the crossword puzzles I do every day to keep my mind a little limber. I don’t sit and vegetate.”
– Betty White
#3 Record and Re-Watch Your Presentations
The third technique is to record and re-watch your presentations. This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s the best way to learn from your mistakes and become a better public speaker. After you’ve given a presentation, watch the recording and take note of what went well and what could be improved. Then, make a point to practice those areas that need improvement.
One of my favorite professors in college, and one who made the most impact, made me record myself. It was one of the most enlightened days of my life. Because it allowed me to see first-hand the areas I needed to improve and made public speaking much less daunting. It is hard to explain, but watching yourself brutally fall on your face while presenting was the key to my success.
A research study at Yale University found that when people watched recordings of their own speeches, they were able to identify and correct errors that they would not have noticed if they had only listened to the recordings. So recording and re-watching your presentations are not only a good way to learn from your mistakes, but it’s also an incredibly effective way to improve your public speaking skills.
Professor Mark Smith, who conducted the study, said, “Our results suggest that people can learn to become their own best critics and improve their communication skills by recording and analyzing their own speech.”
When Nothing Else Works
There Is a small chance none of these techniques work. If you have tried all of them and you’re still not seeing any improvement, then it might be time to accept to live with them. For example, if you make your weakness part of your strength, people will love you for it. Let’s say your weakness is that you get really nervous when you speak in public. You can use that to your advantage by telling your audience, “I’m a little nervous right now, but I’m going to do my best to deliver a great presentation.” This self-deprecating humor will endear you to your audience and they’ll be rooting for you from the start.
Or, if you’re not comfortable memorizing your material, you can try delivering your presentation in a more conversational style. This means speaking extemporaneously and relying on bullet points instead of full sentences. Of course, this technique only works if you’re comfortable with it. If you’re not, then it’s best to stick with memorizing your material. The important thing to remember is that you can’t please everyone. There will always be people who don’t like the way you speak, no matter how hard you try to please them. So don’t let the haters get you down. Instead, focus on delivering a great presentation that will benefit your audience.
Francis, oh Francis
Our final story about overcoming fear is about Francis. He was a very successful lawyer who had a debilitating fear of public speaking. Francis would get so nervous before presentations that he would break out into a cold sweat and his hands would shake uncontrollably. He tried all of the techniques we’ve talked about, but nothing seemed to help. So he decided to make his fear part of his presentation. He started off by telling his audience, “If I pass out from nervousness, I’ve added a list of instructions to bring me back. If all fails, can I please ask a volunteer now ahead of time to finish off my slides?”
The audience laughed, but Francis was deadly serious. He then proceeded to give one of the best presentations of his career. By being open and honest about his fear, he was able to connect with his audience and deliver a great presentation despite his nerves.
So don’t be afraid to embrace your fear. It might just be the key to becoming a better public speaker. love who you are, accept your weaknesses and develop your strengths. But most importantly, always be prepared to give the best presentation possible. The preparation will give you the confidence you need to succeed. And if all else fails, just remember that you can always try the pass-out method. It might just be the key to your success. Thanks for reading! I hope these tips help you become a better public speaker.