The first time I gave a public talk in English was the worst experience in my life.
It was so bad that it took me a few years until I had the courage to get back up on stage and give a public talk in English in front of a big audience.
I still haven't recovered from that experience.
And that was about five years ago.
Speaking in public can be brutal.
The people sitting in the audience can be brutal.
As soon as you make the tiniest mistake people will laugh about you.
Worst. Feeling. Ever.
People laughed about me. Many times.
And I'm still afraid that people will laugh about me the second I say or do something wrong.
But I learned how to deal with this over the years.
Here are a few things that helped me over and over again. Maybe they will also help you..
# DON'T LISTEN TO PITCH COACHES
A lot of pitch coaches or public speaking coaches will tell you to stand still.
To pay attention to every move of your body. To only smile every once in a while.
They'll tell you that all of this might confuse the audience.
But you know what.
I can't stand still for an entire hour.
I can't keep my arms from bouncing around. I just can't. That's just not me.
It doesn't feel right.
Whenever I'm on stage I feel like walking around.
After a one hour long talk I probably covered 5km+.
Sometimes I look on the floor for way too long.
I can't fight it. I have to do this to get my thoughts straight.
Whenever I try to hide all of these things, whenever I try to be someone else my talk sucks.
I get confused, get lost and feel uncomfortable.
So I stopped trying to hide who I am. I stopped trying to fight it.
And I decided to be authentic instead.
To show the audience the real me. And not some sort of plastic fake me.
And you should do so, too.
If you want to run around or jump around on stage then just do it.
If you want to move your arms around like a crazy person then just do it.
Heck, do whatever you want.
Do whatever makes you feel comfortable and stop listening to these so called coaches.
What works for them might not necessarily work for you.
Just be yourself. Be authentic and do whatever makes you feel comfortable on stage.
Your audience will feel it and appreciate your authenticity and your true self.
They're tired of seeing and hearing the same plastic speakers over and over again.
# DON'T USE SLIDES
Whenever I used slides I tried to learn the content by heart.
I was so afraid that I might forget some facts and I was too nervous to remember what I wanted to say. One time I was so nervous that I repeated the exact same things my partner said just a minute earlier.
That's how nervous I was.
The next time I gave a talk I decided to only use slides with a picture and one sentence on each slide.
And everything went great. I was a lot more confident and it left myself a lot of space to talk about some other important stuff I came up during the talk.
I know this sounds very, very scary at first and trust me I was scared as shit as well.
But I realized that this was the only way to really improve my skills. Even though you might think that you're not good at this (which is probably true), this is the only way to improve your skills as a speaker.
Only if you leave the safe shore, will you ever be able to learn how to be a good swimmer. Sometimes you need to put yourself in tough situations. It's these situations that will help us grow and unleash our true potential.
If you're scared to do this at your job go and sign up for an improv class or Toastmasters.
Or do it like me and contact 20 universities in your country and ask if you could give a talk there. That's how I got started.
The more confident you get, the more stuff you can leave out. And the better you'll get.
After I used slides that only had pictures and one sentence on them, I moved to slides that only had one sentence on them. And then I moved to a flipchart where I wrote down some of the stuff I was talking about, while I talked about it.
And then I started to only write down a few sentences on a flipchart before I started my talk. To finally end up giving my talks without any slides, a flipchart or whatsoever (that just happened a few days ago).
And you know what?
I guess the last talk might have been one of the best talks I ever gave.
After all, speaking, as everything else in life is about challenging yourself over and over again.
It's about going that extra mile. About doing the things most people won't, because they're just too damn afraid. Don't be one of them..
# PERSISTENCE & PRACTICE
After I was publicly humiliated it took me a few years until I felt confident enough giving another public talk.
But once I decided that I wanted to become a better public speaker I was on fire. That was back in the summer of 2013.
Since then I gave probably around 50+ talks.
It might have been a lot less but it definitely feels like I gave 100+ talks.
And you know what?
Being on stage and talking for up to an hour is now something I got used to.
I still worry about what people might think about me and whether or not people will like it and so on.
But the moment I start talking no one can stop me anymore.
I'm so used to this that I'm barely scared anymore.
It now feels more like a routine. A habit.
Just like a little kid that learns how to ride a bicycle.
The beginnings are really tough, you'll get a lot of scars, but over time, with persistence, practice and patience, riding a bicycle will become the most normal thing ever.
Just like giving public talks..
# WRITE A LOT
The single most important thing that helped me to become a better public speaker was and still is the fact that I constantly write.
I constantly write, try to tell stories and publish them on my blog.
If you ever attended one of my talks and read my blog you might have noticed that everything I talk about was already written on my blog or in a book of mine.
I wrote the first post a few days before I gave my talk..
The moment you start to write things down they somehow magically become a part of you.
And everything I do now when I'm on stage is to repeat the stories that I wrote down at some point.
The more you write, the more stories you can tell.
Up until now I published 100+ blog posts.
That's a hell lot of stuff to talk about..
# START WITH A JOKE
If you start your presentation with something funny, something people will laugh about, you take away all of the pressure.
Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I feel like people in the audience only showed up to laugh about me. About my mistakes. And nothing else.
Being aware of that (even though that might just be me hallucinating) I try everything that I can to make them laugh as soon as possible.
That will take away all of the pressure. That will take away their laughs.
And then they won't laugh about you anymore (even though you're just imagining that people might laugh about you).
Make them laugh about a joke or tell something funny instead.
The last presentation I gave, I started about how I only realized the day before that I had to give a talk. And that I had no clue about what I would be talking about. This made a lot of people laugh.
Not necessarily because it was so funny but you now established a magic bond between you and the audience.
You put yourself on the same level. The level of being human, making mistakes, missing deadlines and so on.
Want more hands on advice?
I'll tell you all of my secrets on how to build your personal brand and how you can go from being a Nobody to being an Influencer. For FREE! You can join here: From Zero to Influencer
The first two or three sentences are so critical that they pretty much decide about whether or not someone likes you (or falls in love with you), connects with you or will listen to the rest of what you're going to say.
And the best way of winning people over is to give them the impression that they could be the person on stage.
That you're just like them. That you share the same fears as they do.
For example, that you didn't have the time to properly prepare the talk.
That's something everyone in the audience can relate to.
And exploiting this is very, very powerful.
You start off weak (show your weaknesses), you put yourself on the same level as your audience, people start to underestimate you and then you pull off your big show.
You'll surprise them by delivering one of the best talks they've ever heard in their lives.
And because you made yourself “small” in the beginning it will blow them away even more.
Even if the talk isn't that good at all, they will still be blown away because they expected a really bad talk.
That's the power of setting low expectations. I use this all the time.
If you set low expectations people will always be surprised if you're better than initially anticipated.
Works for me. Might work for you.
Always stay humble.
Always be funny.
Set expectations low.
And then blow them away.
# TELL STORIES. ALWAYS.
The moment you start talking about statistics, start to analyze graphs or have slides (see earlier) with more than 5 words on them you'll lose your audience.
People didn't show up to your talk to see another boring news reporter.
They see them on TV every single day. If they wanted to read or hear about statistics, graphs or what not they'd opened up the newspaper or turned on the TV.
People that show up to your talks want to be entertained. Well, I actually don't know about you. But that's at least why I attend talks.
People (I) don't want to hear the same stuff they can hear everywhere else.
So tell them about how you met George Clooney.
About how George Clooney changed your life.
About how you had a few beers and how he secretly told you that he was in love with another woman.
That's the stuff people want to hear about.
Or how you saved the planet.
Or how you failed miserably.
Or how you got humiliated the first time you gave a public talk.
That's the stuff people (I) came to hear..
# DON'T WATCH TED TALKS
Every time I watch a TED talk I get very upset (after being amazed at first).
I always wonder how these people are able to be so amazing at giving public talks.
The worst thing was that one kid of, I don't know, maybe 13 years old.
He totally crushed it.
Even now I feel like a complete failure if I think about this kid. I think all sorts of stupid things that only get me down. That won't help me at becoming a better public speaker.
Here are some things I usually think about after I watched another brilliant TED talk:
I'm a complete failure at public speaking and in life in general.
I will never be a great public speaker.
I'm just not talented at public speaking, so it doesn't make sense to even try it.
I simply wasn't born a great public speaker.
And a lot of other excuses.
Because that's what all of these things are at the end of the day.
They are all excuses for me to not try harder. Or for not trying at all.
I know that this is stupid because it took these folks a lot of hard work, training, persistence, struggle and hardship to get to the level they're right now.
It's just that I somehow try to ignore it.
In the end I always end up upset. Or lazy. Or what not. I don't feel like putting in any effort. It all seems so hopeless.
So I stopped watching TED talks, even though they're very inspiring and motivating.
# SAVE A PUBLIC SPEAKER
Speaking in front of an audience is tough. Really, really tough.
I recently read an article that 95% of the people would prefer to get a gastrocopy (or insert anything else that terrifies you) instead of giving a public speach.
So please tell every speaker how much you loved their talk and how inspiring and motivating it was.
These two seconds might be worth more than a million dollar.
They might be worth more than anything else on this planet.
These words of appreciation might help to turn a mediocre public speaker into one of the world's best public speakers.
You. Me. Them. Everybody..