I used to get nervous every time I even heard the words “speak in public”. The first time I ever felt the need of addressing a crowd was in High School, when participating in an electronics contest. The usual symptoms didn’t take long to show up: palms are sweaty, knees weak / arms are heavy(thankfully no vomit on my sweater).
I’ve come a long way since then and my successes with public speaking made me fall in love with it:
- I presented my final High School project several times in contests and won all of them. One of those would end up taking me to the Intel ISEF 2012(the biggest Science and Engineering fair in the world)
- I presented my research project (which I will finish in December as my Masters’ thesis) several times in conferences and research meetings,winning a couple of prizes as well.
- I was invited to be part of several Young Scientist or Young Entrepreneur organizations (such as Intel ISEF Alumni and Junior Achievement) and I personally mentored groups of younger students who won prizes themselves
My stand @ Intel ISEF 2012 Pittsburgh
My improvement as a speaker was the result of self-awareness and autodidacticism. I knew I had to improve, so I went ahead and practiced as much as I could. I quickly realized that:
Changing your Mentality Is Step No. 1
Some speakers climb on the stage and already lost their audience.Their minds accept defeat as the outcome by default. Instead, you must think like a true public speaker:
- If you’re well prepared, if you worked hard to create a quality presentation, if you have something so say, there’s very little that can go wrong.
- The audience is not against you. They’re with you. They want to be informed, entertained or inspired. And no, they will not make fun of you or ask questions to undermine your presentation.
- If you say something factually incorrect, forget your next topic or stutter for a few seconds, it’s ok. Seriously, it’s ok to make mistakes. The best thing you can do is laugh it off and keep on going. The audience will understand.
Respect the Process, From the Idea to the Actual Speaking
A lot of speakers fail because they’re not well-prepared. It takes a lot of work to create a stellar presentation:
- There’s a lot of planning involved, especially if you’re working with a team and tight deadlines. You have to figure out your communication strategy, research strategy, roles for each team member, goals and time management.
- You have to conduct great research to arrive at the core of each topic. The only way to communicate the essential is to get rid of all the noise and select the best sources of information.
- Your slides or posters are nothing without you, the speaker, yet they take a lot of work anyway. Content Creation takes a lot of time and iterations to get right, but it’s the difference between a mediocre and wow-inducing presentation.
- A fluent speech, well-coordinated with your medium of choice, will not come out of your mouth effortlessly. Even Steve Jobs did several rehearsal rounds before presenting each iPhone or iPad. Rehearsing will turn even the most insecure speaker into someone who transmits confidence to the audience.
Take the Time to Rehearse
Novice speakers take the most benefit out of rehearsing thoroughly. That means going over the script several times until it’s almost memorized.
This doesn’t mean that you should memorize the whole script and recite it in front of the audience. You should add personality, gestures and storytelling. But knowing exactly what you have to say and when to say it is a huge boost in self-confidence. It’ll be almost automatic, despite of your nervousness level.
The Rehearsal Process
Rehearsing your presentation in front of your team or advisers (teachers, mentors, supervisors) is also the only way of getting honest feedback before the actual presentation. You’ll then have more time to work on your weak spots and deliver a much better talk.
Labor omnia vincit (Work Always Prevails)
Of course, none of this advice will be of use if you don’t get out of our comfort zone. You need to put yourself in the position in which you’ll be presenting a lot:
- Join Science clubs or meetings if you’re in that field
- Sign-up with organizations like Toastmasters, which promote the development of skills like public speaking and communication
- Participate in Startup Weekends or other entrepreneurial eventswhich focus on sales, public speaking and communicating ideas
- If you’re working on any cool projects, be on the lookout for competitions or conferences where you can showcase them
And most of all, recognize that it’s a pleasure to be able to talk to people. Communication is hardwired in your brain – telling people about your ideas, convincing them, inspiring them, motivating them, it’s all born with us.
Well, it worked for that 14 year old kid…
Presenting my research project at a medical conference in 2014