BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
Public speaking. It’s a skill that can make or break your career path. If you freeze up every single time you talk and can’t express yourself clearly and authentically, you’re going to be held back. Communication is incredibly important in every single career, and public speaking is still one of the most highly feared tasks for many people.
Before you say, “I’m just not good at this” or “I don’t need more skills!” take a step back and take a deep breath. Over the next few issues, we’re going to run a public speaking boot camp to level up your public speaking skills. Whether you’re ready for your first meeting or first TED Talk, these skills will start the trajectory to you being the best version of yourself.
Last month we discussed warming up, and if you’ve added that to your repertoire, you’re ahead of the pack already. What happens when you’re in the middle of your talk or meeting, and you suddenly blank and start at the group like a deer in headlights? No matter how much we prep and practice (and you should be prepping and practicing, even if it’s in the car ride over!) there’s that terrifying possibility that your brain just short circuits and there’s nothing there. Here are three quick tips to recover from what I like to call, brain locks:
When you suddenly forget where you are or where you’re going, it’s usually because you’ve been moving too fast, you didn’t practice enough, or something happened that threw you off your path. This first tip might sound a bit too easy, but breathe. I’m not talking about a little panicked breath to keep you from passing out: I’m talking about a deep breath that fills your stomach and back. Try it now: place one hand on your back and the other on your stomach and take a few deep breaths.
When you get stuck, this is a great way to recalibrate your brain and path: just breathing. By taking those few moments to yourself and thinking where you were and where you’re going, you’ll get yourself back on track.
There is nothing wrong with being transparent with your audience. They want you to succeed! So many people I talk to feel as though speaking is a “me versus them” situation when it comes to an audience, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Audiences, no matter who they are composed of, do not want to see you fail. Here’s proof: think of the last time you saw someone “fail” – how did you feel? Probably pretty terrible. No one wantsthat feeling, because we get the energy we put out.
Saying something like, “One moment, I’ve got to find my place” and then taking a deep breath and checking your notes (even if you don’t use them the whole time, have them for moments like this!) and then continuing on is a great way to both show your audience that you’re human and for them to show some empathy because chances are, they’ve gotten stuck too.
…But Mind The Apologies
This one is less of a do and more of a don’t – watch your apologies! There’s nothing worse than a speaker apologizing a million times for losing their place or getting stuck in a brain lock. Did you do something you’re ashamed of? Did you hurt the audience in some way by getting stuck for a few moments? No? Then don’t profusely apologize. The only thing that excessive apologizing does is make the audience feel sorry for youand pity isn’t a good emotion.
If you must apologize because it’s part of your character (and there is nothing wrong with that!) then try saying “I apologize, I lost my place, one moment” versus “Oh. I’m sorry!” Sorry implies a feeling of shame – and no public speaking brain lock should be shameful.
When all else fails, remember: you, and your audience, are human. That minor mistake is just that – a little mistake.