Manage Your Confidence When Speaking to a Group

By Sara Russell

You’ve worked so hard on your pitch/presentation/talk and you know that if it goes well, you’ll be making the difference in this world you were meant to make.

[Insert dread of public speaking here.]

Speaking in front of people is frightening whether it’s to three potential investors, in a conference room pitching your RFP, or even to a room of your biggest fans.

Never fear! You don’t have to be polished to pull it off. In fact, if you just focus on three areas you can get through with flying colors. Today I’m sharing specific tips from 20+ years of public speaking that will help you both feel and exude confidence.

(1) CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE

As the expert, it’s inevitable that you’ll know way more than your audience needs to hear during your presentation. Follow this open+body+close formula to be clear and concise.

An ideal opening includes a hook to get their attention, your name and credentials, the solution being shared, the three things that will be covered and ends with a call to action. It should last no more than 2 minutes.

Example: Did you know that only 10% of VC investments go toward women owned businesses and yet the ROI is 4 times greater than in men owned businesses? My name is Sara Russell and as the leader of the Austin EBW circle and corporate trainer/coach for managers at Fortune 200 companies, I have seen up close and personal the challenges that women have to contend with. By expanding the reach of ONE Club around the world, we can change the tide. Specifically that would happen in three ways: financial literacy, emotional support and a strong network. By the time I’m finished, I want you to be excited to promote our message on social media before you walk out the door.

The body will simply elaborate on those three things – and yes, only three. This is important because you don’t want them to worry that you’re going to drone on forever. Plus, the easier it is for them to follow you – the easier it is for you to influence them. This part can be as long as you need – however, the key is to “sign post” each section.

Example: With that in mind, let’s first discuss financial literacy. (elaborate) Now I’d like to cover the second aspect, which is emotional support. (elaborate) To tie this together, the third component is a strong network. (elaborate)

Finally, a strong closing will restate their key concern and the solution provided, remind them of the three things covered and end with a clear request to action. Like the opening, this will be brief.

Example: To recap – women business owners are struggling to make their full impact because of insufficient funding. Happily, EBW2020 offers the ONE Club – which provides financial literacy, emotional support and a strong network to overcome that. With this in mind, I’d like you to open your phones and share something you learned on your social media platform of choice before we leave today.

(2) PREPARE FOR THE INEVITABLE

You know they’ll likely ask, so get yourself ready by anticipating their questions – especially the ones that you hope they don’t ask. Then prepare short responses, ideally no more than 1 minute long. When you are ready for questions (which should not happen until after your close), open it up by saying “Who has the first question?” This sets the expectation that they will have one, gives them permission to ask, and doesn’t come across as weak or degrading like the most often used phrase “Any questions?”

When you answer, maintain eye contact and listen (don’t contradict, interrupt, dismiss or seek approval). Then thank them, repeat it for others to hear (a great trick for buying yourself time) and give a short answer.

Next – assuming you’re using a PowerPoint…know your technology, practice with your technology and if at all possible, arrive early to test your technology in their space. Also – think through what you’ll do if technology fails you.

Even seasoned veterans such as myself run into issues and when you’re already nervous, the last thing you want to have to contend with is figuring out a solution on the fly. Better to have thought about it and considered bringing your presentation on a thumb drive, printing backup handouts, writing your three points on a flipchart or simply doing it all without visual aids.

(3) TRAIN YOUR VOICE

Nerves are natural AND they show up in our voices in ways that can undermine a well-crafted message, perfectly prepared answers and technological brilliance. Don’t ignore your voice – it can betray your confidence!

If you take a few deep breaths before you begin and then control just three aspects of your voice, it will make a huge difference (did you notice I said three even though I added in deep breaths just before?).

Projection – most people speak softer when they’re nervous.

Pace – most people talk faster when they’re nervous.

Pitch – most people fall into a monotone voice when they’re trying to remember what they practiced saying.

Good news – there’s a simple solution: over dramatize your voice. Yup, all you need to do is practice at home (with your technology) and:

  1. speak so loud you feel foolish / like you’re yelling
  2. use the power of long pauses both for you (to catch your thoughts) and them (gives them a chance to internalize and track with you instead of becoming confused)
  3. overly inflect the highs and lows of your voice for emphasis

I know it sounds insane, but if you create this “new normal” at home – then when your nerves naturally impact your projection, pace and pitch…you will actually fall back to a much more natural, conversational sounding style.

So there you have it – craft your message with intentionality, prepare for the inevitable and train your voice. If you do these three things you will feel and sound as confident as your heart centered mission and that will overshadow any mistakes or stumbles along the way. Now go forth and conquer the world!

About the Author

Sara Russell is a 20-year speaker, Fortune 200 trainer, and board member of the National Speaker Association in Austin. As the the COO of Beyond Ten, Sara’s mission is to help companies embrace 21st century learning by flipping traditional corporate training on it’s head so that employees actually enjoy it, behavior changes are tracked and ROI can be proven.   Follow her on LinkedIN at linkedin.com/in/SaraRussellSpeaker