It was the day of my first big speaking engagement.
Etsy flew me to NYC to talk to makers about marketing and goal setting.
I had on my newly purchased dress and stilettos covered in silver glitter.
The countdown was on. I had 15 minutes until the next break was over and it was go time. I panicked. Full on ‘everyone looks blurry and all I can hear is a loud buzzing sound’ panic.
I half walked-half sprinted out of the room with my handbag, pulled out my cellphone and called my husband.
Me: “I can’t do this. I’m leaving.”
Him: “What? Aren’t you supposed to go on in minutes?”
Me: “Yeah, but I can’t do it. I’m too nervous. I think I’m going to vomit all over the first row.”
Him: “You can do this. You’re ready. You’ve practiced so many times I know your speech.”
Me: “I’m staring at the elevator and I think I’m just going to get on and leave.”
Him: “Don’t you dare. I promise you’ll be fine.”
I hung up the phone and placed it back in my handbag, my hands shaking and covered in sweat. I promised myself that I’d never accept another speaking offer. This was it. I never wanted to feel like that again, but I’d already committed.
I trudged back into the room, walked to the front and waited to be introduced.
For the first ten minutes of my speech, I shook so bad from head to toe that I wondered if everyone else could see it. But, I hit a stride after that first ten minutes and by the end, I was riding high on adrenaline and pride.
Etsy had loved both of my presentation ideas so much that they asked me to do both of them. My second speech was at the end of the day.
When I stepped up to the mic for the second time, the nerves had disappeared and all I could feel was excitement.
That day I found my love for public speaking and I haven’t looked back.
I recently shared five tips for landing your first speaking engagement and today I’m sharing twelve tips for improving your speeches and presentations.
1. Know your audience.
Ever have to chug lattes (hello stomach ache!) to keep from nodding off at a conference? It might’ve been that the speaker was a dud but it could’ve been that the content wasn’t relevant so it didn’t engage you.
Don’t make this humongous mistake as a speaker. Tailor each of your presentations to your audience if you want to engross them and, even more importantly, actually help them.
If you’re talking to a group of beginners, you’ll lose the audience if you use terminology that only experts know. And, if you’re teaching a bunch of experts, you’re not going to want to focus on beginner skills unless you want your attendees looking for a fire alarm to pull just to get out of there.
This usually entails learning a bit about the audience you’re addressing. Many conference organizers have audience members fill out surveys before the event, so ask the organizers if they have any background information on the audience.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Even though this tip couldn’t be more obvious, so many people wing it when it comes to speaking at conferences or teaching online. Just because you’re an expert on the topic doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice.
The only way to get more comfortable come game time is to run all the routes over and over. If you want to step onto the stage confident, you’ve got to practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll do. I pinky promise.
And, just in case this isn’t clear, practicing alone isn’t the same as practicing in front of people. Before my first speaking engagement, I practiced in front of my husband and mother-in-law to get used to speaking to actual human beings.
Before my last CreativeLive course, I taught some of the material to the studio audience in the weeks leading up to it via group Spreecast calls.
3. Be yourself after an espresso shot (or two).
It doesn’t matter whether you tossed and turned barely getting two hours of sleep or a solid eight hours the night before. You need to be energized.
We’ve all been at a conference or watched an online course where the person’s monotone performance ruins their speech. You do NOT want to be that person.
You also don’t want to say things that you’d never really say in order to sound cool or smarter. Be your creative, beautiful self.
Bonus Tip: I have a pre-public speaking playlist that I jam out to while getting my hair and makeup done (or while I’m doing my hair and makeup). This helps to get my adrenaline flowing and keeps me from focusing on what could go wrong.
4. When something goes wrong, laugh at yourself.
90% of the time something goes wrong. You blank out mid-sentence. You say something silly, something you would never say if you’d had time to think about it. The powerpoint doesn’t work. You accidentally skip two slides ahead.
It happens to every speaker. As long as you don’t take yourself too seriously, neither will the audience. If you laugh at yourself, they’ll chuckle and you’ll move on.
If you panic or freak out, it’ll make the audience uncomfortable and can throw you off for the entire presentation. And, that’ll be the main thing the audience remembers.
5. Pause or take a breath instead of using filler words.
You can avoid the dreaded ‘um’ ‘uh’ ‘ah’ filler words that are distracting to the audience if you pause or take a breath instead.
The first time I taught at CreativeLive, my content producer was amazed at how little I said ‘um’ or ‘uh.’ In fact, he wanted to know how I avoided them. Easy. I didn’t try to fill every single space. (Oh, and I practiced until filler words were a thing of the past. PRACTICE please!)
6. Give them an action item.
Keep the audience engaged well after your speech by giving them a bit of homework. Don’t completely overwhelm them. Instead, give them one thing they can do that day to improve their lives.
You get bonus points if that one thing gets them to your website and signed up for your email list.
7. Don’t be afraid of answering questions.
The first time I spoke at a conference, I was nervous about audience questions. You can’t really prepare for them and that’s scary. However, I quickly found that audience questions can add more than anything else to a speech or course.
My CreativeLive courses would NOT be the same without the amazing studio audience members. Embrace the power of the audience instead of fearing it.
8. When you don’t know something, just say so.
When someone asks you something that you don’t know the answer to, don’t stammer out a vague answer or worse, an incorrect answer. Just say that you don’t know. Peoople don’t expect you to be an expert at everything and you’ll be more likable and respected if you’re honest about what you know and what you don’t.
9. Lead with your best stuff.
If you capture your audience’s attention in the beginning, they’ll be more likely to stick with you.
What’s your best story related to the topic? Lead with that.
10. Know your contingency plan.
Let’s say the worst happens. What will you do?
When I spoke at the Etsy Success Symposium, I had a couple worse case scenarios in mind: 1) I trip in my high heels. 2) I draw a blank and can’t remember what I wanted to say.
I decided that if I tripped in my sparkling stilettos, I’d laugh and keep going and if I drew a blank, I had notecards with the main points I wanted to cover just in case. I didn’t want to rely on my notecards, but they were there if I needed them.
Give yourself a safety net, especially if you’re nervous.
11. Dress to impress.
This is not the time to pull out your well-worn sweater and leggings. You want the audience to take you seriously and you want to feel confident.
The most important part of your outfit, hair and makeup is remain true to who you are and your style. If you never wear dresses, you’ll probably feel awkward in a dress.
If you love polka dots, rock those polka dots. You want to show up as your best version of yourself.
12. Don’t let them see you sweat.
No matter what happens, remain calm. You’ve practiced. You’ve got a backup plan for the worst-case scenarios. You can do this.
And, often the audience doesn’t know when something doesn’t go according to plan. Remember that this is the first time they’re seeing your presentation. They don’t know if you missed a point. They have no idea that you spilled soup on the cuff of your shirt and had to roll your sleeves up to hide it (that actually happened to me).
As long as you stay calm, so will the audience.
I hope these twelve tips help you take your next speech from so-so to can’t-get-enough.
Have something to add? Leave it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.