When I was in eighth grade, I once had to memorize a poem I had written and present it aloud from memory in my english class. Why they would give us this assignment when our hormones and ability to write poetry were objectively at their worst, I’m not really sure, but it had me stressin. I ended up making it about four lines in before crying, running out of the classroom, and staying in the bathroom until after the class had ended.
Now, about six years later, I have left the eighth grade through great personal triumph and actually enjoy public speaking. I definitely still get nervous about it sometimes, but mostly it’s something I like and will even willingly volunteer for. That change is most likely something that happened naturally with growing up and no longer trying to hide my braces every time I spoke, so I don’t suggest these tips as a holy grail in becoming a motivational speaker rather for people who are a little more like middle school Kathleen than college Kathleen. These are more of a way to make it a slightly more bearable experience for those of you who aren’t quite as desperate for attention as myself 🙂
1. practice it for someone (or something?)
Nothing helps a presentation more than thinking about how it’s going to sound to outside ears. Sometimes reading a speech aloud to just one person can make you rethink how you’ve structured it or realize a clearer way to demonstrate your point. After I’ve done a brief run through of a presentation in front of someone else, I’ll also usually practice it in front of a stuffed animal many times. This is a weird one, but it’s a long standing tradition for me and helps me take presentations a little less seriously. It definitely cuts the nervous edge when your audience is a bear. Well, a stuffed bear. I think having a live bear as an audience would be a little more stress inducing.
If you’re required to speak from memory, or even if you’re trying to avoid relying on your notes too much, I find it helpful to reduce my presentation over several steps. First I’ll maybe run through it with complete notes, then I’ll reduce it to key points, then key words and transitions, and then try it without any notes at all. Often times if I try to go off the cuff too early I just end up stumbling through what I have to say. It might not be the most direct path, but I find it can save a little time in the total memorization process.
3. plan a reward
Like I said before, I actually like public speaking, but with things I hate like physics tests I’ll often plan a reward for myself afterwards. For me it’s usually getting lunch with friends, but it can be anything that works for you. That way you know that no matter how it goes, there’s something good at the end waiting for you. Something social is usually good for me so I can get my complaining out as soon as possible.
4. blast them tunes (your own speaking voice)
Another slightly weird thing I do for big presentations is record a good run through of my speech and listen to it in the days leading up to it. That way I can really get it ingrained in my brain and a little more familiar with how I want to deliver certain points. One downside of this is obviously you don’t get any additional familiarity with any visual aspects of your presentation that might be involved, but I still find it useful. By the time the day rolls around I’ve heard what I’m going to say so many times that I’m almost a little bored with it. Plus I get to remember how much recordings of my voice make me uncomfortable which is always a huge upside in my book.
5. talk with your teacher
I know that the culture of student teacher relationships are very different in different countries and even from classroom to classroom because every teacher is different, but as a general rule your teachers or professors are not your enemies. If you feel comfortable with them and are truly worried about public speaking, consider telling them a little bit about it. You don’t have to lay your heart on the line, but it never hurts to mention that it’s not your favorite thing if you’re comfortable doing so. This way they may be more lenient if you talk slightly less than other group members if it’s a group presentation for example. It’s worth noting that if you are considering this it’d probably be best to let them know at least several days in advance to avoid seeming like you’re making up for procrastinating your work.
At the end of the day public speaking is a life skill many of us will go our entire lives without really needing. If you give a subpar 10 minute presentation about Francisco Pizarro, it’ll be okay. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be like me; comfortable with public speaking, incredibly annoying, and googling Francisco Pizarro to make sure you’re spelling it right.