Public Speaking

Back in Junior High, I had a choir solo in front of the whole school. I got dressed up for my big debut and listened to the music intently for the musical queue. I was singing a solo from Sunset Boulevard and I was 12 years old and nervous as heck. Since I fidget when I’m nervous, I played on the ends of my skirt, rolling the ends a little between my fingers.

When my choir teacher (who looked a lot like the wicked witch of the west) played the video in front of the choir class, I realized that I was not “rolling my skirt” a little – instead it was rolling quite a bit and I thank God I managed not to flash anyone. Mortified, I’m pretty sure that was the moment I determined that my choir teacher hated me for letting the tape play, and it was also the moment that I realized that a socially awkward girl prone to fidgeting and embarrassment had no business putting herself on the line like that – despite my love of singing.

When I moved, I decided to build a new me, and my fear of speaking in front of a group of people was the first thing I wanted to tackle. Despite my introverted personality now, in high school and college no one would have ever applied that adjective to me. I got active in debate and by the time I graduated college in 2005, I majored in Communications. Not bad for a shy kid, don’t you think? As I worked (and continue to work through) my old fears of public speaking, here are the presentation skills that I know are going to help you rock some socks off.

Rule Number One: You should never read word for word from a printed out document or slide show. (Please never forget this one.)

  • Start strong – come out with a relevant story that ties everything together.
  • Let go of the podium and take down the last wall between you and the audience.
  • It’s a presentation – not a sales pitch.
  • Be passionate, exciting, and make people want to know more.
  • Be open for questions and if you run out of time, give the audience a way to get a hold of you after the presentation.

The people who taught me these things know way more about public speaking and presenting in front of live crowds than I do, but thanks to some of these things, the shy awkward kid from South Carolina moved to Arkansas and now has a career that she’s comfortable and happy in. Never saw that coming.

How did you make yourself a better public speaker? Who did you watch and what presentation skills did you try to emulate when it came to when you did your own presentations?