Have a look at this video. It’s a public-speaking nightmare – exactly the sort of thing people have in mind when they say they hate public speaking, it terrifies them and they will go to any lengths to avoid having to do it. (Bad language alert)
This is a clip from a programme called Billable Hours, a Canadian comedy series about struggling young lawyers. Obviously, it’s fiction, made as cringeable as possible for comic effect, but it portrays many people’s greatest public-speaking fears and is therefore worthy of analysis. With proper preparation, all these pitfalls can be safely sidestepped.
In practical terms, start by sorting out your notes. The cards Robin uses are a good size and shape (the type I recommend), but do remember notes are meant to be back-up, not a script to read out verbatim. If you’ve got a full script, it is, as I’ve said before, almost impossible not to read it – and this undermines your performance in two ways. Reading puts you at one remove from the audience; public speaking is about talking to the people listening to you. Also, if you’re reading from a script, you’re not forming your sentences as you speak and your mind is less likely to be engaged with what you’re saying. OK, I know it’s comedy, but if Robin had been thinking about what she was saying, instead of reading on autopilot, she wouldn’t have got stuck wondering how to finish the ass- sentence.
It’s also vital to know when you’re approaching the end of your speech or presentation. The opening and the closing sections are particularly important and you need to give them priority in rehearsal. Hmmm… rehearsal… that’s a good idea. Yes, indeed: however carefully you may have written your lines, or even prepared them in your mind, there is no substitute for saying out loud everything you plan to say several times in advance.
Oh, and for Heaven’s sake tie your cards together. Dropping your notes is all too easy to do and, even if you’ve numbered your cards, it can be an embarrassing faff to reassemble them. Write on only one side of the card, punch a hole in the top corner and tie them all together, loosely enough that you can turn them comfortably.
The other problems, such a nervous swearing, will be solved by staying grounded and in control. Letting nerves get the better of you is the only thing you can do wrong in public speaking. Any other mistake can either be successfully glossed over or turned to your advantage (as the audience sees you handling a difficult situation with aplomb). If you’re very nervous about an upcoming speech or presentation, be strict with your subconscious and don’t allow it to sabotage you; replace any negative messages it sends you with positive, affirming ones.
All this constitutes proper preparation. It takes some effort, especially when you’re new to it, but it gets easier as you become more experienced – and the great thing is, it works. If you go in well prepared, practically and psychologically, you will be fine. I’m not saying nothing will go wrong but I am saying you will be fine, whatever happens – and that can’t be anyone’s idea of a nightmare.