Posted 28 September 2021

A guide to public speaking and battling nerves

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Public speaking is a bit like Marmite: people either love it or hate it. Some get a glow when they’re given a mic and asked to present, while it makes others run a mile. When it comes to a creative career, however, knowing how to communicate clearly and confidently will serve you well – whether that’s team meetings and events to interviews and internships. So how do you get good at it? Read on to find out more.

When might public speaking skills be useful?

When you think about public speaking, TED Talks or a Steve Jobs keynote might come to mind. But in reality, the spectrum is much broader, and often way less intimidating. Here are just some of the instances where public speaking skills might come in useful:

• Presenting your portfolio during an interview
• Presenting ideas in a crit
• Introducing yourself at a company or studio (e.g. when you join as a freelancer, intern or employee)
• Pitching or presenting a deck to a client
• Speaking on a panel or at a conference
• Teaching a class or mentoring

But it’s not just so-called extroverts who are good at public speaking; often, those who do it well have just had more practice. With that in mind, we’ve outlined some essential points to consider to help you feel more confident in any speaking situation.

Prepare and plan ahead

It might sound obvious, but you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to prepare as much as possible. Here are some things to consider:

🤔 Know your audience

Ask yourself who you’ll be speaking to and what they need to know. This will not only give you a sense of how formal it needs to be, but help you plan what you need to say and how. A client pitch, for example, will require a different approach to an interview or informal meeting with your team.

A good place to start is to note down all of the important points you need to get across. Then, it’s a case of working out the best way to deliver or present this.

📊 Work out what else you need

Think about what additional materials you might need. Will a presentation, PDF or deck be expected, or just some initial references or thoughts on paper? Set aside enough time to collate or create these, and consider how they will complement or add to what you’ll be saying.

If you are going to be delivering a talk or presenting a deck for a pitch, try to get your notes and visuals ready as early as possible. The earlier you put it together, the more time you’ll have to practice.

🥸 Reminder: Be yourself!

If there’s one piece of advice worth remembering, then it’s to be authentic. Which is why it’s a good idea to try and make what you are saying feel less scripted and natural.

Know that you don’t need to be anyone else but you. You’ve got this far being you, after all, so it doesn’t have to change when you’re giving a public speech or talk.

Practice, practice, practice

It almost goes without saying, but it's vital to practice, practice, and practice some more. Getting used to presenting and talking about your ideas will not only help make you feel more confident, it allows your personality and energy to shine through.

There’s a fine balance, though, between preparing too much and not enough; you don’t want to sound too scripted nor do you want to go completely blank if you lose your notes – we’ve all been there! Here are a couple of pointers you can try.

🎤 Record yourself

Record yourself to understand how you are speaking. By watching or hearing yourself back, you’ll be able to pinpoint areas to work on like delivery or body language.

For example, we tend to talk much faster when we’re nervous, which means the likelihood of tripping over your words increases. Listen back, what do you notice? Are you saying “um” or “like” too much? Are you hunched over or standing straight? Now is the time to make note and fix it.

🕺 Be aware of your body language

In any talk, presentation or meeting, you want to keep good posture. And no, we’re not talking about a soldier straight position. Instead, keep two feet evenly distributed on the ground, avoid crossing your legs and rocking from side to side. Good posture will also help to support your voice.

If you’re doing it over the computer, ask your friend to make notes about things like eye contact, too – you want to be looking at the camera rather than gazing off to the side. If you’re in front of a crowd, try to look over at everyone.

👯 Do a test run with a friend

Once you’re feeling more confident, practice with a friend or colleague, either in-person or virtually. This is also a good chance to do a tech rehearsal if you’ll be talking online. For example:

  • Check speaker notes: If you’re using Google Slides or Keynote, make sure you know how to keep these readily available on your screen while presenting. Or if you’ll be talking in person or projecting slides on a bigger screen, work out how best to mirror your screen.
  • Consider if you’ll need WIFI access to play any sound or video.

Some final preparations

Once you’re all prepped and feeling good to go, there are a few final things to take into account before the big day.

😌 Make time to rest

Rest is good for the mind, body and soul, and quite frankly we don’t always get enough of it. Lack of sleep will make your brain foggy and your adrenaline will have to work extra-hard to get you through – this could impact the way you present. Coffee won’t help either, so get a good night’s sleep beforehand.

🧹 Set up your space

Not only should you dress the part and wear something presentable – or something that’s confidence-boosting – you’ll also want to make sure your space is set up well, too. This is especially important if you’ll be presenting virtually.

A clean, professional environment is always going to leave a good impression. And if you live with other people, it’s a good idea to give them a heads up to avoid any bloopers!

🔙 Have a back-up plan

It’s always advisable to have a back-up plan, whatever the occasion. In this case, we recommend having an extra set of notes somewhere – either virtually or physically on a piece of paper – just in case.

It’s more than reassuring to know that you have something to fall back on, especially in the age of power-cuts and internet drop-outs.

How to keep your nerves in check

Everyone gets nervous; it’s human nature. Even the most confident types get a little tense before a big talk or meeting. While nerves are your body’s way of preparing to shine, you want to try and keep them in check once they start to become a negative influence. Here are a couple of considerations to help you out when the jitters strike:

😮‍💨 Take deep breaths

Try repeating the following breathing exercise to bring your heart rate down, and hopefully you will start to feel much calmer:

• Breathe in and count to eight
• Breathe out
• Hold and count to eight again

✅ Reject negative thoughts!

The more positively you think, the more confident you will feel. Just before you present, if negative thoughts, anxiety or doubts creep in, try saying the word “Yes” in your head, each time they arise. This acknowledges the thought, but dismisses it as it happens. You can also try affirmations like “I'm going to do well!”

💪 Strike a power pose

Power-posing is especially useful for shaking out those nerves and getting our adrenaline pumping. Find some great advice on this here, and reap the assertive – and powerful – feelings it brings.

What to do if things go wrong

Even with the best intentions, things don’t always go to plan. So if things go awry – whether that be tech issues or simply going blank – try not to panic or beat yourself up, it happens!

Remember, you’re trying to help, educate or communicate something to an audience, and your message is way more important than your nerves. Slow yourself down and take deep breaths; don’t be scared of pausing a moment and gathering your thoughts.

The more you do it, the better you will become

Public speaking is like a muscle; the more you work on it, the stronger and more refined it becomes. It takes training and practice. The more presentations and public-facing situations you find yourself in, the more confident you’ll become – whether it’s a large or small group, or an informal or formal one. So don’t forget to put yourself out there, even if it feels like the scariest thing beforehand! You’ve got this.