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Public Speaking Hacks That Won’t Make You Throw Up

There are few things that are less nerve-racking than standing up in front of an audience for the first time. I remember that day rather well. I was thirteen at the time giving a speech on Corydon and the Constitutional Elm in my junior high auditorium in front of my peers and their parents in New Albany, IN. Unfortunately, the speech didn’t go off exactly as I’d planned. Apparently, someone forgot to tell my nerves to calm themselves so instead of starting my career as a public speaker that day…

I threw up.

Needless to say, it may have taken me a minute to get back up to the podium again.

Thankfully, time changes our outlook on how people perceive us and, as I got older, I knew that I had an important story to tell. I have to admit that having a calling or a mission that you feel is important to share with others changes your mindset a bit, but it doesn’t remove that fear of public speaking completely.

Over the past several years, I’ve been able to put different public speaking hacks to the test. I’ve spoken for HEAR and the Indiana Adoptee’s Network both alone and with my co-author Pam Kroksie (we wrote a book Frankie+ Friends Talk About Adoption about being adopted from the child’s point of view…but that’s for another day).

Pam & Marcie

Pam Kroskie (left) and Marcie Keithley (right)

During that time, I’ve come across a couple of tricks that I think can help anyone. Whether you’re a beginner or a longtime speaker these hacks for public speaking may help you swallow back that fear. Don’t worry. I’m not talking about imagining a person in the audience as a chicken or even naked. Talk about distracting. These tips are simple and easy to implement with a little bit of effort upfront. Your audience will never know about those blasted butterflies.

Tip #1 – Be Prepared. Too obvious? Believe it or not, public speaking is one of those things that you cannot over practice. Write down your speech, or at least some bullet points, before the big day and practice, practice, practice. The more familiar and comfortable you become with what you want to say, how you want to deliver the material, and knowing how you want to engage the audience allows you to appear natural if you don’t have to think about them all at once. Practice in front of a mirror, with a friend, or family member. Too embarrassed to practice in front of someone else? Grab your phone or webcam and make a video of your speech to review after. If you are naturally anxious, time how long it takes to get to the venue where you will be speaking and how long you think it will take to setup any materials you plan on bringing. If you do make notes or bullet points, make copies and have them in different places just in case.

Tip #2 – Be Yourself. This one may not be as obvious, but it is just as important as being prepared. If your friends tell you that you’re the serious one of your group, please don’t try throwing in jokes and puns during your speech. It won’t come across as natural and your audience will know. Use your serious nature to explain, teach, or convince your audience instead. Same goes for those of you who enjoy cutting up every once in a while. Go ahead and throw in a joke or a good pun during your speech and don’t worry about sounding like the professor who spoke before you. Audiences adapt to the speaker and the material being presented no matter who is presenting. Let your personality shine through and do the best job YOU can do.

Tip #3 – Keep It Simple. It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details of a topic or cause that you are passionate about. But talking above your audience’s head will only lead to confusion and disinterested listeners. Speak to your audience and investigate as much as you can about their involvement or knowledge in the material that you will be speaking on. If you’re there to inform the audience about something, assume they know very little and put your information in layman’s terms. If they are experts, feel free to give them deeper details using industry jargon. In the weeks leading up to your speech, find out about who is coming to the presentation. Use the information you gather, like age, gender, locale, etc. to ensure that you are addressing the audience appropriately. Talking to a group of college engineering students about the benefits of nanotechnology in solar panels is not the same as speaking to a group of senior citizens about the ways solar panels can help decrease their electricity bills. Am I right?

As an inspirational speaker, I am blessed with the opportunity to help others overcome grief and get on a path to self-discovery. Sometimes these lead to breakthroughs with members of the audience which is a humbling experience. Because my work as a speaker and coach is so important to me, it is also important that I do my research. I highly recommend that you do the same. Be prepared. Be Yourself. Keep it Simple. And try not to think about that guy in the back of the room naked. It’s just awkward.

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