Getting Over the Speaking Jitters

 

 

From Psychology Today

Had anyone told me when I was getting into high school that I would be speaking at marketing conferences in New York and London, I’d laugh in your face. That would be after turning bright red.

So I still turn bright red today (it’s part of being pale) but I am much more calm when it comes to speaking in front of groups of people. I’ve had friends in this industry ask many times “Do you get nervous?” or “How do you stay so calm?”

There isn’t a trick like picturing the audience naked (ewww!). It’s all a matter of perspective, preparation and confidence.

Get Perspective

There are a few things to keep in mind when you get into a room to speak. The first is that you are in a room full of people just like you. No smarter, no less smart. The attendees will vary in experience level from experts that you have followed since starting in SEM, to beginners that got stuck doing SEO as part of their marketing role. The point is, they all are there to learn about your experiences. Don’t think you have to WOW everyone in the room. Remember that it is a big crowd, and you aren’t going please everyone. If you can help one person there, the job is done.

Practice Preparation Makes Perfect

One thing I don’t do is practice my speeches. I know, most people would call that heresy, but I prefer to shoot from the hip. My advice is to:

  1. Write your presentation ahead of time  (NOT the night before) and go over it in your head a few times. It’s okay to edit just before the conference, things change too fast not to.
  2. Do not memorize it. Memorizing will only make you more nervous.
  3. Storytelling is the best way to connect with a group. Remember that part about the attendees being there to hear about your experiences, just tell them about those experiences.

You want things to be as natural as possible.

Confidence

You were chosen for a reason. Have confidence that you can teach someone, many someones in fact, something new. Embrace the fact that you are an expert in your own field and industry. There are many experts at different things, and to someone in that audience you are the expert.

But don’t get a big head. Never stop learning. The moment you stop learning is when you need to change professions. You can be an expert at one thing and a complete greenhorn at another field or industry. So accept your new position as a speaker and go forth. You earned it with the blood sweat and tears poured into your work and optimization.

Kate Morris

Kate Morris

Kate joined us after a year running her own search marketing consultancy in Austin, Texas. She brings with her a wealth of experience having worked in-house and agency-side in SEO and PPC. Kateh264 // A native Texan by birth, Kate got her BBA...   read more

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8 Comments

  1. Good points on perspective. On turning bright red, I am right there with you. I wish there was a way to stop that!

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  2. @Kristi - me too! I turn red if I laugh, get embarrassed, drink ... whatever. Quite annoying!

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  3. Great post. I was lucky enough to share a panel with you at SearchExchange in Charlotte and was very impressed.

    One thing I have found that helps is to say the presentation out loud a number of times. I was able to fix a few issues with the flow of my presentation by just saying it out loud while driving.

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  4. Great advice. When I went from just about dying during 10-minute presentations in college to having to do 2-hour talks in grad. school, I finally convinced myself of the same thing - these were my peers and they WANTED to learn.

    Funny thing about practice, though. I actually do go through my presentations a handful of times, and I've found that, the more I practice, the more comfortable I get winging it. If you don't worry about memorization but practice your key points, you eventually realize that there are 100 ways to say the same thing, and the exact words don't matter that much. It also helps to remember that your audience has NO IDEA what you were going to say, so they won't know if you change it.

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  5. Nicely done, Kate! You raise some great ideas.

    For introverted types like myself, public speaking has been tough. I had always been afraid of being on stage. I've become significantly better recently though. here are a few things that i've learned.

    The best way to overcome the fear is experience. The more often you can get on stage, the more familiar it will feel and reduce your fear. The fear never goes away, it just becomes manageable.
    I love music. I found that performing at open mic nights and Karaoke are both great avenues for conquering stage fright. This is true for 2 reasons - you know the content well, and more importantly, because you can perform multiple times per week.

    Another great thing to know is most people are on your side. When people attend your session, it's because they're curious about you and your content. I think most fear comes from uncertainty about how the audience feels about you. Here's the answer: They want you to do well. They're internally cheering for you, and hoping for a great takeaway from your session - even if its just the experience of hearing your story.

    i hope that helps.

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  6. Interesting. Rand and I have talked about the practice thing. He doesn't, I do....

    Like Pete though, I don't make any attempt to learn what I'm going to say - I just want to make sure I flow and don't get sidetracked into stupid stuff. I find it lets me "wing it" better. Each to his (or her) own on that, I guess.

    I do know that for me, the best presentations I've given were the ones I practised most...

    Top lesson though: tell someone something they don't know. That's when you win in business presentations IMO.

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  7. The trick I used to use when I first started speaking (and still sometimes use) is to pretend I'm someone else. I'm naturally introverted (12 hours in front of a computer is just peachy with me) so I just pretend that I'm someone more social and extroverted. Or if there's someone who I think speaks very well, I'll conjure up their personality and try to emulate how they speak.

    In a way, it's like I'm an actor. And if the audience doesn't like it, it's not me they don't like, but the person I'm pretending to be. (I know, a psychiatrist would have a field say with me!).

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  8. @Jim > That is really good advice and is kinda the route I take when I run training days, or play in my band.

    My advice to anybody who is feeling nervous (if possible) is to try and get some interaction going on early into your speech, it will take the pressure off you and allow you to compose yourself.

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