Public speaking is something that gives 9 out of 10 people a sick feeling in their stomach. The thought of doing it can be absolutely terrifying. In fact, for me, in college it was a required course and I remember purposefully putting it off as long as possible because I just did not want to do it. When I did finally take it, I struggled so much to get through it. Anxiety would take over and when the time came to speak, my knees would fall together and I would shake so hard I couldn’t even read my note cards. Anybody else have this experience?!
Although I was completely embarrassed at the time, I’ve since learned this is completely normal. In my opinion, public speaking is a skill learned over time (not something we’re born with), and everyone has to start somewhere, including me. But just because you have this anxiety about public speaking doesn’t mean you can’t work through it, nor is it a reason to turn down an opportunity. Enter my journey from shaky knees and anxiety to loving public speaking.
I don’t consider myself a professional public speaker by any means, but with this digital creative world we’re living in, conferences are a common thing. And the deeper and deeper I get into my career, the more opportunities I’ve gotten to speak. I used to hesitate to accept these opportunities, but now I literally find myself seeking them out. I’ve even found the more you speak in public, the easier it gets!
One of my very first impactful experiences that really started to change the way I viewed public speaking was when I spoke at Simply Stylist in Chicago. It was alongside an amazing panel with the likes of Jacey Duprie of Damsel in Dior and moderated by Catt Sadler. I dove in head first and put myself out there in a heartfelt way and spoke candidly. There was no speech or memorized lines, I just spoke. After the event was over, the positive and emotional feedback from girls in attendance was almost overwhelming. It was then that I realized I actually really enjoyed speaking publicly. It made me feel like I could truly make an impact, too.
So, as time went on and more opportunities presented themselves, I started saying yes. From speaking at conferences to being on TV—I even learned how to read a teleprompter and to control my posture while on live television. It started to turn into this crazy journey I never thought I’d be on.
Then about a month ago I had an incredibly amazing “full circle” moment when I spoke at eBay’s Open Conference alongside its CEO, Devin Wenig. I was also asked to be a moderator for what was their keynote. Now here’s the crazy part—15 years earlier I skipped my college graduation to attend this very conference for the first time! So, as I took the stage in the grand ballroom of Mandalay Bay in front of over 2,500 people, I had never felt more grateful for not only my business but my experiences in public speaking that helped me get to that moment.
OK, now that you know my background with public speaking, I wanted to put together 5 tips to help you take steps forward in your own journey. Whether you’re speaking in front of 15 people or 1,500, these are the steps I always take to be sure I’m ready. Take notes!
1. Know Your Topic
If you’re asked to speak on something you know nothing about—like nothing—think twice. It’s going to be hard to feel comfortable with a topic you’re not well versed on. If you have time to prepare, it’ll probably be OK, but if you go up there unprepared and don’t have a clue, people will definitely know. And trust me, you don’t want to be in this situation. Either say no, or make sure you have time to prepare (and research).
2. Dress Comfortably and Look and Feel Your Best
You know more than anyone what makes you feel like you. Whether that means buying yourself a new pair of shoes to give you an extra pep in your step or getting your makeup professionally done to give you the confidence of Beyonce. Whatever that thing is that makes you feel your absolute best, do it. BUT make sure you’re comfortable. Stay within your normal boundaries because if you are uncomfortable in any way, it’ll show, and it could make you totally uncomfortable. True story: I once opted to wear a pair of heels that were about two inches too tall and they pinched my feet so badly that I had to take them off mid-speech because I was certain I was going to pass out. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
3. Don’t Over-Rehearse and Mentally Organize Your Material
Sit down and really think about the things you want to touch on. I recommend taking some time and writing it out as to not get lost in your own thoughts. This will help create the flow you’ll need to make your speech seem put together.
You’ll also need to know how long you’ll be speaking for. Is it 2 minutes? 13 minutes? This will really determine the information you include and how deep you’ll go into your key points. Once you have the timing nailed down, you’ll want to rehearse—but don’t overdo it. That’s when you’ll start to overthink it and the audience will take notice. Just remember that when you’re speaking about something you know a lot about, the words will flow and you’ll be good to go.
4. Don’t Read Unless It’s Absolutely Necessary
There is nothing more boring than sitting in a crowd and watching someone read word for word from a piece of paper (whether at a wedding or a presentation). It just doesn’t come across authentic or like it’s coming from the heart. I think it’s totally OK to have notecards with your key points, but really try to keep the copy on your cards to a minimum. Write down just enough to keep you on track and that should be all you need.
5. Be Yourself and Let Loose
I know this is easier said than done, but if you come prepared, you feel comfortable and you’re ready to just let the words flow. Letting loose will come naturally. Remember that there’s a reason why YOU were asked to speak in front of a group and that’s because of who you are as a person. Let that shine through and you’re sure to be a success!
I really hope these tips and sharing my experience helps anyone who might have a public speaking event coming up. And, of course, if you have any questions just comment below and I’ll give my best advice!