If an expert is a person who is known for what they know, and you are said expert, what's causing those butterflies to come to life and make you feel uneasy at the most inopportune moment?
I'll never forget my first invitation to the stage as a professional. I don't recall it because of the venue, which was famous Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. I don't recall it because of the large audience who were eager to hear me speak. I recall the occasion because I was caught trying to sneak out of the ballpark just prior to having my name announced.
I was simply horrified and felt that I couldn't handle the situation in a professional manner, so I did the next best thing and headed for the exit.
I share that anecdote to let you know that I hear you and I feel your pain. Public speaking can be excruciating if you don't employ key skills to help you shine, to prompt listeners to lean in with interest, take notes at a furious pace or laugh on cue.
Ben Franklin was correct in stating that "Failure to plan is like planning to fail", and that covers all aspects of your presentation including audience engagement. Since that dreaded night at Fenway, I've come to realize there are surefire steps to speaking preparation that will prompt your butterflies to seek a new home.
Step 1: Develop an Ideal Avatar Audience Member
You may be speaking to thirty or three-hundred people, but all groups share commonalities, regardless of their size. Conference attendees have similarities, even though they've traveled to the venue from around the globe.
You can gather information from the organizer on the average age, education, demographics, desires, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. You may want to create an ideal female avatar and an ideal male.
Do whatever you must to dissect the audience and know to whom you'll be speaking.
Step 2: Create a Bond
Whether you're standing at a conference table or walking on stage in a packaged theater, prior to uttering a word, select just one person and speak directly to them.
Get them to acknowledge your words through simple, direct eye contact before broadening your gaze to include others.
Because you've created an avatar, you know the general makeup of the entire audience, but zeroing in on one individual with your opening remark will be calming and reassuring as you begin to hear the sound of your voice.
Step 3: Talk to the Cabinets
As you begin rehearsing your speaking points, stand in your kitchen or any room with many, multilevel focal points and practice eye contact. Every cabinet is a seat, and at the center is a pair of eyes. If your cabinets have knobs, then pictures them as the eyes of audience members.
"But my cabinets don't have knobs." Ok, don't make excuses. Pick any darn room or location where you can easily create the visual effects of having eyeballs on you - high and low, left and right.
Practice speaking your words and making eye contact with each-and-every set of eyeballs in the room. The lower level cabinets will be people in the front row, and the upper level are those several rows back. Of course, the top of the cabinets will represent audience members in the back rows.
Of course, there are other rooms that may work better for your practice, but it is important that wherever you choose to practice this technique, it's important that the room has numerous items or fixtures upon which you can fix your gaze as you present your speech.
STEP 4: Chunk it
As you practice presenting your speech or presentation to those cabinets and drawers, you should also present certain chunks of your presentation to particular areas of your practice room. Let's say you have a statement you expect will elicit laughs -- break up that statement into a staccato verbal pattern and practice engaging at least three areas of the audience. If you have a statement that includes statistics, deliver it to three to four people seated together. They'll feel your power.
By chunking your speech into thought groups or statements and identifying different areas of the room to deliver those words, not only find it easier to maintain your train of thought, you'll also draw-in more audience members by deliberately scanning the crowd.
By employing these tips, in fewer than 90-seconds you'll have a "zen" feeling, you'll enter "flow" and you'll quickly get in the zone to deliver a meaningful, powerful presentation and truly knock it out of the ballpark.