By Alex M. Eduque
To be honest with you all, even if I’ve been invited numerous times to share a few words in this event or that, and have given talks countless times to many different audiences, I still get butterflies in my stomach the last few minutes before I begin. It doesn’t matter if I’m on stage about to speak in a very large auditorium, or with a small intimate group in a classroom – in fact, the latter can even sometimes be more intimidating because it opens the floor for more questions. For each time I’m given the honor to share my thoughts in front of people, I always make it a point to prepare. And admittedly, while there is always overlap in what I have to share (I’m only one person living one story after all), I always make certain that I prepare something new for each and every time in order to adhere to and focus on what the audience wants me to hear.
I am not writing this because I am an expert – I am the farthest thing from one. In fact, I still have so much to learn and improve on. Rather, I am writing this because I want to share with all of you my thoughts on how you can make the most out of the situation, and fight those butterflies and bugs that linger in your stomach. Why you should seize every opportunity given to you. So let us begin.
Firstly, remember that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, if you have any status or celebrity symbol. The reason you are talking on that very stage you are on is irrelevant because what is important is that you were asked to do so because you have a story to tell. And quite frankly, there is no one who can tell it better than you can. Trust your ability to deliver – and have faith in the person (or institution) that invited you to take part. Every single time is an opportunity and should be treated as an honor. It is precious time not to be wasted and to prepare for, because you may not ever be given the chance to speak to the same group of people again. For students who must do so for a grade or a requirement, take it on from a different perspective and see it as an opportunity to practice for the future. Having said that, never treat it like a dress rehearsal – no matter how big, or how small, treat it like it’s your final show. Make it worthwhile, and leave a lasting impact.
Practice, practice, and practice – it makes perfect! Whether that is practicing for a specific talk, or the cumulative experience of all your talks gearing up for the next one. The more you practice, the more confident you are on the material, and on your delivery. Even if it’s your own story, rehearse the sequence so that the presentation goes smoothly. There is nothing more unprofessional or distracting than an incoherent and redundant spiel. Gain the respect by putting the work into it.
Lastly, know your audience! And I cannot stress enough how important this is. Even if the material you are tapped to share will always relatively be along the same lines (because that’s what you’re the “expert” on), the manner in which it is, and it can be delivered will vary depending on who you are talking to. The same story for example can be shared with a bunch of grade three students and a full auditorium of college alumni. The language and vocabulary will definitely differ, as will the method in presenting. Bottom line is to make certain that you are relevant and relatable to the population you are speaking to. Otherwise, it may end up a waste of time on both ends.
Public speaking – although undoubtedly intimidating – is a fear we can all overcome. It is something that we’ve all had to go through at some point in our lives, and while the anxiousness that comes alongside it may never get easier, we can only just keep getting better to conquer it – by working at it and for it!