Prepare carefully. The chances are, you’re an expert in your field and know your subject matter well. That’s probably why you’ve been asked to speak. Take confidence from that, but spend time crafting what you’re going to say. Make detailed notes and put together a visual presentation if required. That will help to take the focus off you and will reinforce what you’re saying. Think about what your audience wants to hear, and how they want to hear it, and make it as relatable as possible. Make sure the opening really captures their attention, and try to finish on a high note.
Practise your presentation as many times as you can. Start off in front of a mirror. Cut out any bits that cause you to stumble or lead you away from the main points you are making. Include personal anecdotes and humour if appropriate. Once you’re happy with it, ask a trusted friend or two if you can present to them and ask for honest feedback. Make any tweaks needed and then deliver your presentation again, either in front of the mirror or with your friends if they’re willing to listen again.
Think of it as a performance. Imagine you’re an actor on the stage delivering lines. Even the most extroverted speakers will incorporate some aspects of performance art into their presentations. Learn your ‘lines’ well and think about your body language. Work on keeping good eye contact with your audience and using positive gestures to reinforce your words. You’re allowed to smile from time to time, even if you have to force it! You can still be yourself, but treating your speaking engagement as a performance might just help to circumvent some of your nerves. You can even make audience members participants in your ‘drama’ by asking questions, calling for a show of hands or using volunteers to take part in role play activities.
Listen to other speakers. If you regularly attend lectures or conferences, analyse what makes some people better at public speaking than others. Is it the subject matter or the way they present it? Does the room set-up or technology affect their delivery? How do they use props or stories to keep the audience’s attention? How are they dressed? Try to learn from other people’s mistakes and successes. If you aren’t able to attend events like these in person, watch some TED talks or online presentations.
Practice makes perfect. The chances are, your presentations won’t be perfect every time. We all make mistakes and there will always be room for improvement. It’s likely that the more you speak in public the better you will become at it. Whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself. Think about what you could do differently next time, but don’t agonise over perceived mistakes. You were probably the only one who even noticed them!