How I Improved My Confidence With Public Speaking.

If you remember, last week I didn’t have a lesson for you all because I was prepping for my talk about “burnout” for the Columbus Web Group. It was a great talk, and I’m excited to be back this week sharing a new lesson with everyone.

Last time you heard from me I shared an update on The Designer’s Handbook as well as a new resource I’m working on called the Portfolio Workshop. I hope you’ve had a chance to check them both out.

So what are we going to talk about this week? Since I just got done with my talk on burnout, I felt like maybe I would share that experience with you, and talk to you more about some of the things I’ve learned throughout my career regarding public speaking.

I’m not perfect at public speaking, but I’ve learned a few things that have made me more confident in myself as a speaker and I think you too may find them helpful. Just like the tips I shared with you regarding how to network effectively, I’m going to keep this lesson focused on tips that may not be so obvious to everyone. Keep in mind that most of these tips are written with a focus on public speaking, but they could also be applied to other experiences such as presenting your proposal to a board room. Now onto this week’s lesson!

My Experience:

I was recently asked to speak at a local meet-up for web designers called the Columbus Web Group. This was actually the first time I’ve done a talk in quite a while so the opportunity came at the right time. Here’s why:

In the past when I would present a topic, I did so with another motive. When presenting a proposal to a board room my goal was to try and win that project. When I would speak to different local organizations around the benefits of branding, it was always done with the intent to promote Greenline Creative. Even when speaking at colleges, it became a great opportunity to keep an eye on new graduating talent. This would provide me with the first opportunity and scoop them up before other large agencies could.

Now don’t get me wrong. None of the above is really bad. Because you have to have a reason to get on stage and do a talk. Sometimes that is for monetary gain, or other times it could be to just promote yourself. Nobody does anything without a motive. Why would you?

So if I wasn’t there to directly promote myself, why did my last presentation at Columbus Web Group mean so much to me? Well my motive for that event was really simple. It was to share what I’ve learned through my own experiences so that they too could gain the clarity and confidence to move further ahead with their goals. You see I’ve been sharing these lessons with you all for weeks now, but I’ve never shared it much with anyone in my local design community. Most of which just know me as the co-founder of Greenline Creative, not someone who now spends a great deal of time focusing on educating designers.

In the end I was really happy with the way my presentation went last week. Sure, it had a technical blooper at the beginning, a few curve ball questions that perhaps I wasn’t exactly ready for, and I may even veered from my script some, but I know without a doubt that this talk helped the majority of the fifty attendees who came out to see it and chat with me afterwords – and that is a success.

Yes, I had a blast meeting some new faces and helping them through their current struggles on burnout, but most importantly, I gained an opportunity to reflect, share and learn from this experience. You see, you can’t get better at something unless you make mistakes. It’s those mistakes that allow you to measure how far you’ve come. I also have a long term goal to eventually speak at a larger design conference so anytime I get an opportunity to speak on the small stage I’m one step closer to reaching my goal of gaining the confidence to speak on a big stage.

What I’ve Learned about Public Speaking:

  • Do it and do it often: The only way to get better at something is by learning from your mistakes and experiences. Practice does make perfect. If you’re nervous about public speaking, do more of it. Soon those nerves will subside. You’ll always have some butterflies floating in your stomach and that usually is just the excitement and anticipation of what to expect. It’s never really fear.
  • Only speak about a subject you understand: In some instances you may have someone reach out to you requesting a topic for you to talk about at one of their events. If possible, never accept those types of opportunities unless the outcome has a huge positive impact on your career. If you’re not confident and well educated around the subject of your talk, it won’t come off authoritative and the crowd may notice. This is also the same reason why only you should be presenting your design ideas whenever possible. Be the expert on the topic and others will listen with open ears.
  • Visit the room if you can: Sometimes this can be difficult. However, if you have a chance to review the room or rehearse in the exact setting of your presentation, it can relieve some of your nerves and make your preparation more accurate to the actual day of your presentation.
  • Relax and settle into your role: Sometimes it’s easy to let the nerves take over your presentation early on. The important thing is to try and settle into your role as quickly as possible. I think this is why some speakers ask questions at the beginning of their presentations. Doing this immediately sets the tempo and settles the nerves and allows the speaker to take control of the room. Sometimes what I generally like to do is just slow down and take a few breaths and focus on the moment. This slows my nerves down so that I can focus on delivering a more controlled and authoritative talk.  
  • Try not to prepare too much: This is a tip that I learned earlier on in my career. Sometimes too much preparation is a bad thing. Most of the time when rehearsing presentations we focus on memorizing our content. When you focus on memorizing, everything will feel very scripted. Even worse, you’ll be focused on making sure you hit on every point of your presentation. This can make you jump back and forth throughout your presentation and distract your audience. Focus on the high level bullets of each slide and keep those slides moving forward.
  • Make it a conversation and be yourself: No two speakers are the same. Just like you should be yourself as a designer, you should focus on being yourself as a speaker. Dress comfortably and focus on creating a talk that tells stories and creates conversation. You’re not lecturing your audience, you’re conversing with them. This is your opportunity to have a nice group conversation with a room full of new faces. Use your presentation as a way to guide them into those new conversations. By being yourself, you eliminate any insecurities about how you may be looking or acting on stage. Don’t worry if you miss any tiny details, that is what Q&A is for.
  • You’re not doing as bad as you think you are: It may not feel like it at the time, but if you find yourself feeling like you’re not doing a good job, don’t stress it. The reality is the audience is on your side. They’ve all been in your spot and want to see you succeed. Some may even be envious of your position so they are not there to heckle you. They truly want to learn from you. That feeling of failure is in your head. You’re doing great!
  • If you make a mistake, keep going: Other than a technical issue, the only way someone knows if you’ve made a mistake is if you tell them you did. If you miss a point, a slide or use a few more filler words than you’d like, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it, just keep going. Nobody will ever notice. They’ll only notice when you stop and pause for it.
  • One person will at least find a benefit in your talk: Sometimes I think we worry about whether or not our talks will be helpful to our audience. The truth is they will be. If people showed up, it is because they want to hear what you have to say. Why else would they take the time out of their day? By public speaking you gain a ton of trust and authority on a subject. You also get to learn a ton about yourself in the process. So even if you feel like nobody benefited from your talk (which isn’t true) be assured that at least one person did and that one person is you.

My Takeaway:

Pubic speaking can be nerving for even the best of speakers. To eliminate those nerves try not to focus so much on being perfect. Be you. It’s easy to be you. That’s what is natural. When you focus on being natural you become likable and your audience will read that. They’ll tune into your stories and connect with you. If you make a mistake, don’t stop. Stopping only makes it worse. Nobody can see your presentation notes so don’t worry if you miss a few pointers here and there. If they’re important they’ll come back around in the Q&A section of your talk.

You should not be afraid to take on an opportunity to talk about a subject that you’re passionate or knowledgeable about. The more you share what you know with others in the industry the more you’ll connect and open up opportunities for yourself. The great thing about educating and sharing your knowledge is that some people like to be educated through a blog or tutorial, others like to be educated over coffee, and some like to be educated by a speaker at a meet up or a conference. So even if you find public speaking not your preferred method of connecting or educating you still have some other options to choose from. However, you should never rule out public speaking. By learning how to speak confidently in public it demonstrates confidence in yourself, ideas and opinions and that can have a greater impact on your career and how others perceive your value as a designer.

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