How I prepare myself for public speaking
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. These famous words by Benjamin Franklin emphasize the importance of preparation. But when it comes to public speaking, how do you prepare yourself? What do you do during those critical moments before your presentation? Let me lift the curtain for you and tell you how I prepare myself for public speaking.
| THE KEY TO A GOOD WARMUP ROUTINE
Before I dive into my exact preparation process, let me tell you straight away that the key is to find a balance between pumping yourself up and calming yourself down.
On the one hand, you like to listen to someone who’s excited and enthusiastic, right? But it’s hard to listen to what people are saying when they’re bouncing up and down from hyperactivity. On the other hand, it’s pleasant to listen to someone who seems calm, but you wouldn’t be able to stay focused if someone would be monotonous and dull.
What you need, as a speaker, is to be in control of your energy. That said, let’s take a look at what—quite surprisingly—you should NOT be doing to prepare yourself for a presentation.
| STOP REHEARSING
You might be surprised to know that I stop rehearsing my presentation after a certain point. In fact, I stop rehearsing my presentation about 24 hours before the actual presentation.
Wait a minute, you might wonder, isn’t rehearsing good for your presentation? Shouldn’t it be an integral part of your preparation? Yes, and yes. But there’s a time for everything.
The reason why I stop rehearsing after that point is that there is simply no use to it. All it will do is make you more nervous when you notice that some parts still haven’t stuck with you. Apart from these negative consequences, the gains from last-minute rehearsing are negligible. Your brain needs time to ingrain information into your memory, and a few hours won’t cut it. So the negative consequences of last-minute rehearsing will be bigger than the gains.
In other words, if you continue to rehearse your presentation until the last moment, you’ll end up being more nervous and disorganized at your presentation.
Of course, you might still unintentionally rehearse certain lines in your head—that’s actually good! That’s a sign that your brain is still processing things in the background, further ingraining what you’re going to say into your memory. But try to resist the urge to grab your slides or flash card notes and rehearse it all over again.
I recommend running through your entire presentation one last time 24 hours in advance. This will bring the words you’ll need in your presentation to the forefront of your memory, making them more easily accessible once you need them. After that, you need to switch to preparation mode.
| GOING IN PREPARATION MODE
Like I said before, you want to be in control of your energy during a public speaking engagement. That’s why I don’t just do a warmup to get my energy up to prepare myself, I also do a ‘cooling down’ to get a grip on that energy I generated.
My three steps, therefore, look like this:
- I energize myself
- I warm up my voice
- I relax myself
| ENERGIZING YOURSELF
The first step is to energize myself. I usually do this about an hour before my presentation, for example, when I’m in the car on my way to the presentation.
The way I energize myself is by putting on what I call my ‘Slaylist’. My Slaylist is a playlist I’ve created that contains all the songs that make me want to dance and sing along as loudly as possible. You know, those songs that make you drive too fast by accident, or make you not care about how everyone on the subway is staring at you because you’re banging your head to the music coming out of your earphones.
I highly recommend creating your own personal Slaylist and save those songs for public speaking occasions.
| WARMING UP YOUR VOICE
Have you ever experienced loosing control over your voice while you were speaking in front of an audience? It’s a very common phenomenon, because our muscles tend to become tense when we’re nervous, and our vocal chords are affected by that muscle tension. You can read more about the physical aspect of public speaking nerves in this article I wrote.
Your voice is an essential instrument for any speaking opportunity. Having control over your volume, pitch, and sound can make the difference between sounding fragile and insecure or sounding knowledgeable and confident.
In order to be more in control of your voice during your presentation, you need to give it enough rest and stay hydrated on the day of your presentation. Avoid using your vocal chords too much before your presentation, drink extra water, and bring a bottle of water to your presentation so that you can take a good sip every now and then.
In addition to that, it also helps to warm up your vocal chords. I do several humming exercises about 15 minutes before any important speaking engagement to warm up my vocal chords. After that, I try to use my voice as little as possible until the presentation.
I also warm up the muscles in my face and around my mouth. Warming up your facial muscles is something people often overlook, but it helps to release any muscle tension that arises from feeling nervous and to deliver a more lively performance. It’s something I learned in acting class, and I now use it as part of my warmup routine for important speaking opportunities.
| RELAXING YOURSELF
As your presentation is getting closer, your energy will probably automatically go way up because of the usual public speaking jitters. In order to clear your mind, become calm, and in control of your excitement and energy, you need to focus on ONE thing during those critical moments before your presentation: relaxing.
I focus on two specific things in order to become calm and in control of my energy before any speaking engagement. The first is the most important one. It’s something that you can always do, wherever you are, and you have unlimited access to it.
Don’t be fooled by how simple that sounds—it’s incredibly powerful if you learn how to use it. And it doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality (that is, it doesn’t have to). The way I see it is that it’s a way to trick your body into thinking that there is no reason to get all shaky and nervous. It’s a way to become in control of your nerves and hyperactive energy.
| TRICKING YOUR BODY
You see, as you get nervous, your body automatically prepares itself for a fight-or-flight response by activating the sympathetic nervous system. As a result, you’ll experience an adrenaline rush, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and feeling warm and shaky. Again, read more about this physical aspect of public speaking nerves in this article I wrote.
You’re not crazy. You KNOW that this is not a life-or-death situation—you know there’s no need to prepare yourself for fight-or-flight. But have you ever noticed that simply telling yourself “There’s no need to be nervous” doesn’t help?
That’s because the conscious influence we can exert on our bodily processes is limited. We need to communicate in a language that our body understands. I’m not talking about a literal language, nor am I talking about spiritual communication lines. I’m talking about breathing.
By consciously using your breathing, you can turn the automatic physical process around and basically trick your body into calming down. It’s like you’re telling your body that there’s nothing to be afraid of, that there’s no need for a fight-or-flight response.
No spiritual woo woo. It’s simply a physical process.
| RELAXING YOUR MUSCLES
The other thing I do to calm myself down before a presentation has to do with releasing muscle tension. As I approach my presentation, I feel more and more tense. The tension in my muscles increases, and I can feel it in my shoulders, arms, hands, and stomach.
There’s a very easy trick to relax your muscles. And because I think ‘muscle tension exaggeration exercise’ doesn’t sound very catchy, I’m calling it the Hulk trick instead.
| THE HULK TRICK
The Hulk trick comes down to exaggerating the tension in all your muscles for five seconds, and then suddenly releasing the tension. That means that, for 5 straight seconds, you strongly tighten the muscles in your fists, arms, shoulders, feet, legs, stomach, butt…. And then let go. The stronger and longer you purposefully tighten the muscles, the more you’ll feel your muscles relax.
Try it out, right now! See if you can get to that feeling of instant relaxation.
| HOW ABOUT YOU?
That’s it. You now know exactly which steps I take before my public speaking engagements. Use it to your advantage, and please share this article on social media if you think others can benefit from it too.