Here's why I told a room full of high school-aged girls that I was terrified of public speaking—which is exactly what I was there to do.
First, a little background: As an agency, we aim to help out where we can. We often conduct workshops, training sessions, and presentations for regional organizations to share our insight and expertise.
Last month, we visited Girls Inc. Westchester to teach the girls about blogging to promote their organization, giving them some valuable tools and tactics to get started.
Girls Inc. Westchester is an organization dedicated to providing girls-only programs to inspire the young women of Westchester to grow up strong, smart, and bold. They're encouraged to think critically about the world, avoid at-risk circumstances, and envision—and fulfill—their own potential.
We were happy to volunteer our time to such an incredible organization. So, we dropped in on one of their weekend meetings to get them started on blogging for their brand, but also to show them an example of a successful woman-owned business.
We ended up teaching a two-sided lesson. We showed not one, but two incredibly effective ways to establish brand authority: through blogging and through public speaking.
Here's the catch: Public speaking is scary. In fact, it's the most common phobia out there, affecting roughly 3 out of 4 people, which is means that public speaking is feared more than death, spiders, or heights.
When you're trying to build your brand as a business, establishing thought leadership and positioning yourself as an expert in your field is a must. By stepping up in front of a crowd to present an idea, you're showing first and foremost that you're confident in your expertise. It allows you to reinforce your reputation as both an individual and as a brand.
If you're like me and the other 75%, you may be terrified of public speaking, but it's an important and underutilized tactic to establish thought leadership in your industry.
Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Be Confident in Your Delivery
I know what you're thinking: "Easier said than done when you aren't the one on stage!"
Sure. Confidence may be a personal struggle, but if you have confidence in your company reputation and your experience in the industry, it's easier to separate your personal identity from your brand identity on stage. Remember that you're not only speaking as an expert—you're acting on behalf of your company.
Have something to say—and say it. Know that you're the expert, that you know your stuff, and that regardless of whether or not you're sporting an unnoticed coffee stain on your shirt, you have valuable insight to share.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
This may be one of the most exhausted idioms in the English vernacular, but there's a reason it sticks around.
Practice your presentation to anyone that will listen: your boss, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your local barista—whoever. Whether or not they're in your industry, it's more important to know what cues to hit and when, getting a rhythm for the course of your presentation.
Ask them if there were any moments that confused them in terms of organization. Did you answer any questions before you asked them? Does it make more sense to introduce one idea before another?
When it comes to public speaking for your business, try to use the 20/20 rule: cut your presentation to 20 minutes or fewer and rehearse your presentation 20 times or more. It may seem like overkill, but you'll be much more comfortable presenting when you can recite your content in your sleep.
3. Focus On the Content
A fear of public speaking is often rooted in self-doubt. We get struck with this sudden though: "Why on earth should I be the one up here? What do I know?"
This is a classic case of imposter syndrome, or the overwhelming anxiety you get when despite all of your accomplishments, deep down, you feel like you're less competent than those accolades warrant. It's an incredibly common affliction for people afraid of public speaking—and focusing on the content of your presentation is a great way to overcome it.
If you begin to doubt your expertise while you're at the podium in front of a crowd, focus on the content. You know that you're presenting facts, analysis, and research. You're sharing proven practices that you know work.
Focusing on the content will help remind you that the audience isn't there to see the presenter, but the presentation.
4. Simplicity Is Key
Many presenters struggle with the thought that in order to be seen as an expert, they need to create incredibly complex content—which is a flat-out lie.
The best presenters simplify the complex, taking a difficult concept or idea and explaining it in a digestible, meaningful way that's relevant to the audience. Instead of worrying about using 14-letter words and technical jargon, keep it simple.
There's a reason why you're presenting on your given topic: You have in-depth knowledge and expertise on the subject at hand. Your job isn't to make it seem impossible to understand—it's to make it comprehensible to an audience that doesn't have the same insight.
When it comes to simplifying complicated concepts, Melissa Marshall (known for her TED Talk, "Talk Nerdy to Me") gives three great tips: take an audience-centric approach, develop a clear content strategy, and make numbers meaningful by giving them context.
5. Remember Why You're Speaking in the First Place
Let's revisit that day at Girls Inc. Westchester. I stood up in front of these incredible girls knowing that we were there to give them a solid blogging strategy, but in reality, we were doing so much more.
Their mission is to create confident, smart, driven young women to pursue their greatest aspirations. A huge part of accomplishing your personal and professional goals is by overcoming obstacles.
I suddenly realized that in all likelihood, three quarters of the girls in that room saw public speaking as an insurmountable hurdle.
"I'm actually terrified of public speaking," I told them. "That's exactly why I'm doing it today."
Interested in learning more about our workshops? Whether you're looking for an on-site workshop, a speaker for an upcoming event, or just want some advice on your marketing or business strategies, we hear you—and we're interested.