Speaking in public can strike terror into the hearts of the bravest of us—even if a speech is no more involved than a simple 30-second elevator pitch.

Recently, I ran across an interesting Tara Hunt presentation, “How to Rock an Audience: from Stage Fright to Stage Presence” on SlideShare.com. Named by Fast Company in 2009 as one of the most influential women in technology, Ms. Hunt confessed to being initially “completely terrified” by the prospect of standing in front of an audience and sharing her thoughts. So I wondered how she overcame her fears to become a sought-after presenter.

It turns out that rocket science is not involved, but practice is. I recommend checking out all 35 slides in her presentation. You’ll zip through them fast, and I think you’ll like the visuals, too. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Halt self-sabotage ‒ Stop a spiral of negative thought and feelings by dealing with common cognitive disorders, such as catastrophizing, labeling, and personalization. (No, the guy in the front row fell asleep because he was tired, not because you were boring.) Your audience is not out to get you.
  • Practice your presentation ‒ You really don’t expect to wing it, do you? Read it to yourself multiple times, read it out loud multiple times, record it, play it back, and present it to someone else. Or let your slide deck do the talking. I think this is chancy, unless your slides are brilliant and, as Ms. Hunt says, “talk as you talk.”
  • Make it personal ‒ Your audience loves personal stories. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a marketing how-to presentation by an excellent speaker. Her slides were dense and not visually exciting, but her stories about herself helped us understand why she made the decisions she had and why her efforts had been successful.
  • Build in interaction opportunities ‒ Just be aware, as Ms. Hunt points out, that some audiences do not interact. Still, give it a shot. Ask questions, ask for opinions, and ask for disagreement. At least try to keep ‘em engaged.
  • Watch those filler words ‒ You know the ones. The “ands,” “uhs,” and “you knows.” Replace them with “dramatic silent pauses.” Of course, you’ll have less need of them if you’ve really practiced.

OK, so that’s the practical part of the presentation. Ms. Hunt goes on to talk about the “hero’s journey” of Joseph Campbell fame and the role of getting your audience (the hero) across the threshold into the territory of transformation. Interesting stuff.

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