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How to look confident... even though you're speaking in public

Great speakers take us to unexpected realms of delight. They move us through giggling to sniffles, to deep introspection and back again. The best ones leave you thinking: "I have got to try that!" Bad speakers, on the other hand, make our toes curl. Ever watched an under-confident delivery and had to consciously unclench your toes?
Confidence is a big part of public speaking, and it's probably the trickiest bit for new speakers to nail down. If you're nervous about the next big presentation, try these 12 tips to create (the perception, at the very least!) of confidence:
  1. Get a copy of the agenda, so that you know when you will be speaking, and how much set-up time is available to you. Work out beforehand whether you will need to change laptops or slides between presentations, and who can help you do so, so that you don't have to fiddle at the beginning of your talk.

  2. Know your content well. Without doubt, this is the best way of overcoming nerves. The better you know your subject, the more at ease you will feel, and remember that stories are the number one way of connecting with an audience when delivering your content. 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking David Brooks say that public speaking is simply this: Make a point, tell a story. Make another point, tell another story.

  3. Thoroughly rehearse your presentation beforehand. You can do this both as a mental exercise, as well as out loud. Ever got half-way through telling a joke, then realised you had botched the set-up? That's what tends to happen if you don't practice a speech. You need to be familiar with what goes where. If you are able to rehearse in the actual venue, then so much the better. There is no substitute for having 'done it already'.

  4. Use checklists for anything that causes you anxiety. For example, if you have to travel to your venue, use a checklist of items to take with. If you struggle with equipment set-up, use a checklist of 'how to' steps. Take any measures to make your life easier on the day.

  5. Take a cup of hot water with you into the room. Sip on it as you wait to be introduced. This will help to keep your vocal chords warm. Don't use milk, which tends to constrict your throat.

  6. The MC is your friend. Get to know him or her well in advance. Bring your own intro and discuss your needs with him. Find out if there have been any unexpected changes.

  7. Chat with the audience beforehand. Shake a few hands. Get comfortable and familiar with some of the people you will be addressing.

  8. Begin your presentation in a strong, confident voice. This will set the tone for a confident presentation from the word 'go'.

  9. Pauses create the perception of mastery. Use pauses consciously. A rushed pace will make you look nervous. You can even go so far as to plan where you will place your first three or four pauses. If you suffer from 'runaway train' syndrome, in which you know you are speaking faster and faster, but can't seem to stop, consider sipping a glass of water as a means of deliberately pausing and 're-setting' your rhythm.
  10. Remember that setting your audience at ease will help to set you at ease. You are the emotional barometer in the room. If you portray discomfort, they will feel it. If you portray ease and calm, they will respond to it. Use a little tasteful, playful humour up front, in order to break the ice. Plan to smile at them on purpose at certain key points early on. It may sound strange, but we forget to do it, and a smile alone can change the entire vibe in the room. Also, look for 'nodders.' Every audience will have one or two people who smile and nod when you speak. These are your friends. Glance at them from time to time for encouragement.

  11. Make sure you have prepared a strong closing. This will give you the confidence of knowing you are building up to something great, not petering out toward a fizzle.

  12. Give a total performance. Even when you are nervous, don't fidget with your clothes on the way up, or down, from the stage, as the audience is always watching you. If you look nervous, they will see it. Walk with confidence, speak with a smile, and after just a few minutes, you will feel what your body language is portraying.
When things get really bad, you can draw a perverse comfort from this truth: The fear never goes away. I have been speaking professionally for nearly 10 years now, and I am always nervous before a presentation. It's normal, it's natural and it's even necessary. If you're not the slightest bit apprehensive, it probably means you aren't taking it seriously enough. There's nothing wrong with a smidgeon of nervousness.

The good news is that the more often you speak in public, the less the fear afflicts you. But it will always be there, and so we can simply accept it as normal. Feel the fear... and do it anyway!

About Douglas Kruger

Douglas Kruger is a professional speaker and author of 'They're Your Rules, Break Them, Own Your Industry - How to Position Yourself as an Expert,' and 'Relentlessly Relevant - 50 Ways to Innovate.' He helps brands to become the leading names in their industry through innovation and expert positioning. See him in action, or sign up for his free newsletter, at Follow him on LinkedIn, or Twitter: @douglaskruger. Email: ...