Marketing & Advertising 13 Public Speaking Pros Share Their Best Tips and Horror Stories

13 Public Speaking Pros Share Their Best Tips and Horror Stories
 

public speaking tipsWhat are you scared of?


If you ask most people, they might say public speaking. In fact, nearly ¾ of people are terrified of getting up in front of a crowd and talking.


As your business picks up, you’ll probably have to start facing your fears of public speaking more and more often. You can send as many cold emails and calls as you want, but big deals get done in person. From investor meetings to team presentations, business owners need to project confidence while convincing people to think their way on a regular basis.


While public speaking might be one of the most common fears out there, there are lots of people who do it all the time. Whether they’re musicians, TV hosts, or entrepreneurs, commanding a crowd is a key skill set for ambitious people in every industry.


I asked 13 professional public speakers for their advice. Here's what they had to say.



1. Rand Fishkin

Wizard of Moz


What’s the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Right before I go on stage, I tweet a link to my presentation using the event/conference hashtag. It helps get amplification from the crowd, grow my Twitter following, and it means that the hours I've poured into creating a slide deck have a much higher ROI (because so many folks who aren't in the crowd see the slides).


I'm not sure that counts as preparation, but I'm not a big prepare-guy honestly. I just follow this process for creating presentations and then rely on the slides and my passion for the topic to inspire the crowd.


Is there a secret to being confident?

I always think of the crowd as a group of friends, all out for a whisky or a coffee together, and I just happen to be dominating the conversation for a bit.


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My goal is to be the same person on stage that I am off stage, and for the presentation to feel like 45 minutes when we're hanging out together, telling stories and looking at data, and trying to find great tactics and answers to our marketing or technology or startup questions.



My public speaking horror story:

I've had slides that didn't load, laptops that never fired up, events that supposedly had hundreds of folks attending end up with only a few dozen. As a public speaker, you've just got to be ready to go with the flow.


Actually, my worst horror story is when I was supposed to keynote a marketing conference in Paris. I arrived at the airport in Seattle for my flight, only to find that I'd booked the ticket for the day before. I couldn't get on the plane. I had to call a friend in London and ask him to substitute in for me, then call the conference and beg their forgiveness. I felt awful about that one.



2. Tim Urban

Creator of Wait But Why, TED Talk Speaker


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

I just want to know my presentation really, really well. If I don't know which slide is coming next, it's impossible to be in command of the presentation and it loses its flow. It's important that I have the whole structure of the presentation in my head as I go.


Is there a secret to being confident?

Mostly just reps. I'm a little less terrified to speak every time I speak. And for me, it's all about feeling prepped.


When I know my material down cold, it's much easier to relax and know it'll go well. If I'm still flipping through the presentation on my phone five minutes before I go on stage, it's much harder to feel confident.


Also, a pre-speaking glass of wine never hurt anyone.

My public speaking horror story:

Luckily, nothing too horrible. Some dramatic pre-talk moments when the AV isn't working or something else goes wrong, but the biggest nightmare is TED. Just everything about it terrified me and still does. It went fine, thank god, but the stakes are just so much higher there and the entire month before the talk qualifies for me as a public speaking horror story.



3. Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor

Neuroanatomist, Author, TED Talk Speaker


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

I listen to the introduction of my story and I feel gratitude in my heart that I am alive to do what I do. The story is so profound that it humbles me every time I hear it, that softens my spirit and I walk out heart connected.


Is there a secret to being confident?

The audience has shown up to hear what I have to say. They want me to succeed and if I am nervous then they will be nervous and I want them to be happy, so I arrive happy. Mirror neurons are a powerful thing—I use them wisely.



The audience has shown up to hear what I have to say. They want me to succeed and if I am nervous then they will be nervous and I want them to be happy, so I arrive happy.

4. Andrew W.K.

Musician, Inspirational Speaker


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Right before I get on stage, I party. And then I continue the party during my entire time on stage. Then, as soon as I'm done, I keep partying all the way until my next time on stage, at which point I begin the entire process again. My main goal in life is to just never stop partying. And that's what I talk about during my lectures.


Is there a secret to being confident?

Nothing makes me feel more confident than partying. But it's a special kind of confidence, because partying also encourages a kind of strong weakness—room for doubt and confusion, and also clarity and self-assuredness. Partying does it all: Gives you access to the full range of human emotions and experiences, but allows you to experience them with an attitude of humble gratitude and rejoicing.



My public speaking horror story:

There was one time when I almost forgot to party during a speech. It was a close call.








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5. Joe Pulizzi

Entrepreneur, Author, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?
Ask the event team about the audience. Who they are? What are they concerned about? What do they expect?

Is there a secret to being confident?

Repetition. The best presentations are the ones where I don't have to guess at what slide comes next, or where the jokes go. My best presentations are the ones I've done at least 25 times. Pick your best thing and keep working at it until it's perfect.



The best presentations are the ones where I don't have to guess at what slide comes next, or where the jokes go.
6. Brian Balfour

Entrepreneur, Founder/CEO of Reforge, Writer at Coelevate


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Remind myself to be over enthusiastic. We tend to think we have more energy in our delivery than we actually do. You notice this when you watch a playback of speeches. So you have to over emphasize and be over enthusiastic to get the type of energy across that makes a presentation engaging and interesting.


Is there a secret to being confident?

I think confidence stems from knowing the material well and having a presentation with substance. It depends on the audience, but audiences of professionals will forgive a ton of speaking mistakes if they learned something from the presentation. The cake is the content, the delivery is the icing.


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My public speaking horror story:

The worst incident I had was giving a best man speech at a wedding. I had the entire speech on my iPhone in Evernote and using it as notes. Half way through the speech I was scrolling down and accidentally highlighted a huge chunk and deleted it. I was left staring at a blank screen.


I ended up just riffing for the end of it and it turned out fine. But lesson learned. Try to know it well enough you don't need notes and if you need notes good ol' paper is better than tech.



7. Chris Savage

Cofounder/CEO of Wistia


What’s the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Know my material inside and out. If I can do that, I can screw up a slide or mis-say something and I'll feel confident and relaxed that I will still get the right message out.


Is there a secret to being confident?

While giving your talk, find a couple of friendly faces in the audience and focus on them. Take your time and be yourself. No one ever has wanted to sit through a bad talk, so realize that people are rooting for you and they want to hear interesting and personal stories.


8. Aliya-Jasmine Sovani

Television Host, Producer


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Research! Research! Research! There's nothing that irks me more than seeing a speaker on stage giving the same ol' sound bites s/he gives to every crowd. I really try and understand the audience I'm speaking to each time, and what about my talk they will find the most valuable.


Once I've identified that, I customize what I'm saying for the audience. For example, a group of professional women at executive levels in the work force will take something completely different away from what I'm speaking about, than a group of first year university students.


Apart from research, hydration is also an important pre-talk preparation. There's nothing worse than being on stage and having your lips stick to your gums because you didn't drink a glass of water!


Is there a secret to being confident? 

My confidence comes from recognizing that what I'm saying is coming from a place of authenticity.



My confidence comes from recognizing that what I'm saying is coming from a place of authenticity.

When you're on a riser, in front of bright lights, and hundreds of faces staring at you, it's easy to get lost in the feeling of your accelerated heart beat. I try and take a deep breath and remember that I'm sharing my genuine beliefs and giving a talk I truly believe is important and authentic. So there's nothing I can say that poses any risk, and that usually calms down my fears!


At the risk of sounding like a hippie, closing my eyes and centring myself in my own truth is really the best way to get confident and own what I'm saying.



My public speaking horror story:

A few years ago a journalism conference flew me across the country to speak to young female journalists. I spent hours on the plane ride tweaking my presentation, and making it perfect. I remember doing a run through of it and thinking: “This is going to be amazing!”


I had 2 more hours on the plane and thought I'd get some sleep. So I put my laptop under the seat in front of me and dozed off. I woke up to the feeling of water dripping down foot. The children sitting in the row in front of me had spilled apple juice all over the floor, all over my foot, and yes - all over my laptop!


I wiped all the stickiness off my keyboard, but being trapped in an airplane there just wasn't much I could do. As soon as I got to the hotel where the conference was taking place, I ran into the kitchen and asked for a bucket of rice! I threw my laptop in the rice (obviously, that's what YouTube told me to do) and prayed really hard.


Unfortunately, my computer was murdered by the lethal apple liquid. And I had to do the presentation without any visual aids—not to mention, buy a new laptop. Such a bummer!



9. Matty Matheson

Executive Chef at Parts & Labour, Host of Dead Set on Life on VICELAND


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Usually the night before—or even days or weeks before, I start visualizing the whole scenario and that’s calming. Making up worst case and best case scenarios. Then, on the day of, it really depends. Sometimes, I try to do nothing and just get up there and sometimes, I just repeat: “Don’t screw this up,” a million times.


Is there a secret to being confident?

It takes time and experience. Every time, it’s tough. The crowd makes the biggest difference, especially vibing with them.







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10. Ann Handley

Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, Author


What’s the #1 thing you do to prepare?

I focus on breathing deeply vs. rapidly or shallowly. (Is "shallowly" a word? I say yes.)


I've been on stage a thousand times and I always have a moment of nerves. It's not because I'm nervous, exactly. It's more like anticipation. Breathing deeply makes me calm down a bit. And also it ensures that I won't throw up.


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Is there a secret to being confident?

The secret is believing in your material. Not just knowing it. But truly believing in your message and needing to share it.



My public speaking horror story:

Most public speaking horror stories revolve around tech failure of some kind. Most of mine do, too.


I had one this past spring in which my presentation wouldn't advance -- and suddenly on the screen came the Rainbow Spinny Wheel of Death. The whole audience saw and collectively exhaled an “ooooooohhhhh…”


But ironically, that failure turned into a win. I knew the material and could finish the presentation without the PowerPoint. And the audience was on my side—they were rooting for me. So what was a nightmare turned into a pretty pleasant dream!



11. Shad

Rapper, Host of q on CBC Radio 1


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

I try to think of what I have to give and what the audience wants or needs, and where those two things intersect. That's where I want to focus my energies.


Is there a secret to being confident?

I think the biggest thing is preparation. But the secret thing is knowing that no one in the crowd really cares about you. They care about themselves mainly, as we all do. So don't worry and don't take yourself too seriously. Take the work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously.



The secret thing is knowing that no one in the crowd really cares about you. They care about themselves mainly, as we all do.
12. Andrew Chen

Supply Growth at Uber


What's the #1 thing you do to prepare?

The biggest thing is to relax. Chit chat always helps me relax. Before I get on stage, one of my favorite things is to have a couple casual conversations. It's relaxing to talk about work, life, family, etc. It gets you in a positive, conversational mood, and you bring that on stage.


Is there a secret to being confident?

The secret is hours of practice. Obviously you have to know the material well, and articulate it in a compelling way. But there's also the format of that knowledge—practicing your pacing, intonation, storytelling, and body language. There's no better way than to watch recordings of yourself speaking, no matter how painful that might be! Then iterate, try new things, and watch the results.



13. Rick Mercer

Comedian, Host of Rick Mercer Report on CBC


What’s the #1 thing you do to prepare?

Other than rehearse? Check my fly.


Is there a secret to being confident?

For me the more prepared I am the more confident I am. If I know the material cold, backwards and forwards then confidence is high. If I am not familiar with the material, that is the stuff of nightmares.



If I am not familiar with the material, that is the stuff of nightmares.

If I have any advice to someone speaking in public I would say run your material in advance as many times as possible in the days leading up to the gig. And do it out loud.



My public speaking horror story:

So many nightmares.


Sometimes the mood of the room can be affected by things beyond your control.


One night the person introducing me went off script and began talking about child suicide. His talk was devastatingly sad and he culminated by asking everyone in the audience to close their eyes and imagine going home tonight to find their child was gone. By the time I got to the podium I saw that half the audience was in tears. Dozens were heading for the doors.


Similarly I was speaking at a breakfast and minutes before I went on stage the president of the company who hired me announced there was going to be a major restructuring and it's quite possible that in the coming year half of the people in the room will be out of a job. Then leaned into the mic and said, “ladies and gentlemen, funny guy Rick Mercer”.


Then there are technical screw ups. I have been in this business long enough that I have seen everything that could go wrong happen.


I’ve had lights start strobing, sound systems give up and, of course, I’ve experienced ear splitting audio feedback.


I have had people in the audience collapse and require medical assistance. I have fallen down the stairs and I have got the hiccups. I have stood on stage for an entire hour with my fly down.


Roll with it.



Conclusion

Whether you're speaking to five people or five thousand, the perfect presentation takes preparation, passion, and a deep understanding of your audience.


With the right approach, you'll be able to master the art of stepping up in front of a crowd and delivering powerful speeches and presentations.


Share your favorite public speaking tips and stories with us in the comments below!