Two simple tips for better speeches

Did you know that public speaking is a bigger source of fear for most people than the idea of dying? Fortunately, most people die only once, but you may face multiple occasions in your career or civic life in which you’re forced to share important information in front of a crowd.

There’s a lot of common “wisdom” about reducing anxiety when speaking, such as pretending your audience is naked. Given my Midwestern upbringing, the thought of talking to a large group of nude people only makes me that much more nervous, so I had to find a better way to overcome those fears. Actually, I found two.

The first is called preparation. Being prepared does more than slow your stomach’s butterflies down to a gentle flapping. It increases your ability to capture the audience’s attention and deliver the message you want them to absorb. Why? The better prepared you are, the less nervous you’ll be.

Your audience will be able to concentrate on what you’re saying, instead of on watching your knees wobble and your forehead sweat. Being less nervous makes you appear to be more confident (even when you’re really not), so your audience will assume you truly are an expert on the subject.

The first step in preparation is writing your speech (or having it written for you). Put it in a large font with at least double spacing. Triple-spaced is even better.

Taking the time to write out a speech provides two key benefits. First, it helps you think through and organize everything you want to say, so you can ensure you’re delivering the most important messages. Next, having a copy of your speech can be a life preserver if your mind goes blank while you’re standing at the podium. (Reading it may be less impressive than reciting it from memory, but it’s a lot more impressive than trying to tap-dance when you have no clue of what to say.)

The second secret? Rehearse the speech once it’s written. Don’t settle for just once or twice — try to practice it at least ten times before the actual presentation. The goal isn’t to memorize the speech. Each rehearsal will make you more comfortable with the material. By the time you actually present it, you’ll know it so well that it won’t sound like a prepared speech. The audience may see you glance down every few words or sentences, but your delivery will sound so natural they’ll assume you actually know and believe in what you’re trying to convey.

These days, we’re all so busy that we tend to regard things like preparation and rehearsal as unnecessary luxuries. But they’re sound investments in ensuring that we present ourselves in the best possible light. If your speech is critical to your company’s stock price, your professional reputation, or a cause you support, it’s worth the extra time and trouble. After all, you’ll have one opportunity to either succeed magnificently — or embarrass yourself because you thought that time would be better spent catching up on Facebook and your fantasy team.