How to Kick Butt Public Speaking

I absolutely love going in front of the room, perhaps getting on a stage, and speaking. The thought of such a thing might horrify some people, but not me. I live for it.

I like how it makes me feel completely alive. I get to have a deep and interesting conversation (yes, I know I’m usually the one talking, but we’ll get to that) with strangers, with friends. You know, the kind of stuff we pretend to do when we’re using social media.

But it wasn’t always like this. I used to blend into the wall when I started out. I couldn’t string together a sentence in public to save my life. “Any minute now,” I would say, “they’re going to find out I’m a phony.”

It never happened.

I’ve read more books on this than anyone I know, I have spent thousands of hours on stage either giving a speech, performing, or preparing for one of them. So here are a few things you can do to make yourself Kick Butt Public Speaking (metaphorically speaking).

1. Speak Like A Human

Yes. No person tells another person “It is important that we realign with our goal metrics to stay aligned with the targets set before.”

You’d say “Hey man, we promised we’d work out more, and we haven’t. Let’s go to the gym.”

And yet, time and time again, I see perfectly intelligent and interesting people go up to a podium or in front of the room and start talking like corporate or government bureaucrats. Stop it. Talk like a human.

How do you do that? Good question…

2. Pretend you’re speaking to a friend.

Better yet, ACTUALLY speak to friends. Work the room before you get up and make some friends.

My fondest memories with friends includes staying up late into the night and talking about our personal dreams, hopes, fears, failures, love, and mortality. The secret is to get into that mindset (and I should say heartset, because really it’s about opening yourself up from the heart) when you get up to present.

People want to hear a human story. A story of dreams, hopes, fears, failures, love, struggles, and of course mortality. Yes, you can find nuggets of these in every talk you are going to do. You may go up and fill your 15-30 minute speech slot if you don’t do this, but the audience won’t remember you.

Be human. Speak to me as a friend when you’re up there. Of course this requires…

3. Knowing your Allies

You can’t open up and speak to an audience of friends (even when they are strangers), when you believe that they are judging you. Friends aren’t judging you. They’re cheering you on.

No one wants to see you fail when you’re up there.

People say you should imagine the audience naked to help you present. I say imagine the audience as a long and close friend leaning forwards hanging on your every word. Just because that’s what friends do, and what you’d do for a friend. Then it becomes easy.

Everyone becomes your ally.

4. Practice!

Sorry. No way around this. I have screwed up too often. I screw up all the time now. My screw ups don’t look too screwy these days, but I know they happened when they do.

You don’t seek forgiveness when speaking with friends. You may do something silly. You take it in stride. You don’t beat yourself endlessly afterwards for screwing up. After all, you were just with friends.

This somehow makes practicing and trying again and again a lot easier.

I was 13 when I got pushed to speak a lot more. After that, through friends and mentors, I had the good fortunate to lead the Debate Club in my high school, do improv comedy in high school, do plays and presentations, as well as do acting work till I turned 23.

You’d be a fool to think I was spectacular on that first debate tournament I ended. And you’re equally foolish to think that you’re going to be Steve Jobs when you walk up on the stage. But you try, you practice, you fail. You try again.

5. Steal!

Oh yeah. Steal. Steal a lot. Steal great ideas. Steal great design. Steal great quotations, great one liners. I devoured pretty much every Steve Jobs keynote. I devour Presentation Zen. I devour great TED talks. I devour great politicians and leaders speaking. I devour great movie scenes.

So there you have it.

Just some ways to kick butt when you’re public speaking.

There’s a lot more to it. Such as learning the art of rhetoric, understand storytelling principles, etc etc.

But this is a good start.

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