This spring, I gave my very first PPC presentation to a room full of industry experts, many of whom probably have kids my age, so to say the stakes were high is an understatement. As far as the content went, I felt prepared. Nerves wise? Yeah, not so prepared on that one.
Is there even a way to prepare for tackling nerves?
There are definitely things you can do to feel more confident before presenting to a crowd of staring eyes. Looking back at my time at HeroConf, I learned an insane amount about paid search, landing page optimization, and social advertising, but the topic that I likely learned the most about was public speaking.
10 percent of people love public speaking, 10 percent are genuinely terrified, and 80 percent get anxious and fearful, but are able to get through it, according to Forbes. So the vast majority of people have some level of anxiety when it comes to presenting.
This probably isn’t shocking to most of us.
Are you one of these anxious individuals? Are you embarking on your first big speech? Or just looking to improve your public speaking skills? Check out the 5 most valuable lessons I learned from my first professional speaking engagement.
Tip #1: Practice Until You Could Present in Your Sleep
This one if critical, and might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by the mass of presenters I saw that clearly had not practiced enough. I’ve heard contradictory advice to this from those preaching that “Over practicing can actually screw you up.” This isn’t true, AT ALL. Practicing should be a part of the entire preparation process, from first draft of your PowerPoint, to the morning before you step on stage.
When I first created my 50-slide deck and ran it by a few colleagues I ended up changing about 85% of the content and delivery. Then I practiced again to the same group, as well as my boyfriend, sister, parents (whose knowledge of paid search is humorous), as well as a colleague who attended the conference with me.
You get the gist, practice in front of as many people who are willing to listen to you, regardless if the content is relevant to them, just getting your presentation done and receiving feedback on delivery will help you tremendously.
If you can, pick people who you know won’t hold back their opinions. You want honest and constructive feedback before getting on stage in front of a group of strangers. You also want to have an outline in your head, know when each slide is coming, and not have to refer to a script – over practicing will simplify all of these variables.
Tip #2: Market Yourself Before to Build an Audience
You’re probably thinking, “I don’t want to build an audience. I’m already terrified!” I completely understand this mindset, but at the end of the day you didn’t spend hours upon hours of pitching, creating, and practicing your presentation for no one to benefit from it, right?
Regardless of what industry you’re in, most speaking engagements are not easy to land, and getting one is an honor and can truly help build your career. What employer wouldn’t be impressed by someone elected to serve as a thought-leader at an industry conference?
The point is, you want a large presence to attend your engagement. This will up the chances of you getting invited back, expose you to new career opportunities, and impress your current employer.
For my panel, I was competing against three other sessions for attendees to choose from, all with engaging titles, and influential speakers with far more pull and career credit then I have. Not to mention my session was the last one before the closing keynote of the conference, so I figured a lot of attendees would be burnt out, and chose to nap or catch up on work rather than listen to yet another presentation.
Naturally, I was nervous about attendance. I used these three strategies to make sure people showed up:
- Make friends with attendees on social media. This works! Retweet and favorite their content, comment on their posts, and just give them some extra social love. This is something you can start doing weeks in advance, and then during the conference follow the conference hashtag and continue sucking up. If someone mentions your topic, tweet at them to make sure they don’t miss your session.
- Partner with someone influential to promote your session. Do you have a close relationship with an influencer in your industry? For me, Larry Kim, who happened to found WordStream (i.e. the company I work for), happens to also be a friend, colleague, and mentor of mine so he was rooting for me. He even took the time to promote my session via social media. Considering the fact that Larry has 86K Twitter followers compared to my roughly 700 follower count, this undoubtedly played an impact on attendance. Thinking about it, it might have less to do with his follower count, and more to do with his status as an influencer in the PPC industry as well as the way he crafted his tweets with the conference hashtag while tagging influencer conference accounts, etc. Well, whatever it was, it proved that having an influencer on your side HELPS greatly. The room was packed, and I’d wager this was greatly due to Larry’s PPC celebrity status.
- Network your face off. Uhh, I’ll pass! I’m sure a lot of you are thinking this because let’s face it, networking is draining and not super enjoyable. You’re tasked with the challenge of forming new relationships, fast, whilst sounding intelligent and intriguing, with some end goal that might not even be clear. Well, for me, I had one clear goal in mind, to get people to my session. In almost every happy hour and meal-time conversation I made sure to mention my session in a relatable manner. My go to line, “I’m speaking for the first time. I’m so nervous! Would you come so I have some familiar faces in the audience?” Seriously, how could someone say no to that? So, suck it up, and network to build a bigger audience! It works.
Tip #3: Learn From Other Presenters
I think it’s fair to say that every conference has some mediocre, outstanding, and awful presenters. Typically, when presenters are selected the moderator isn’t completely confident the individual is a talented public speaker. In fact, a lot of people who speak publicly on a regular basis are awful public speakers, but they’re chosen based on authority in their field.
My point is, attend as many sessions as possible before your presentation to not only steal presentation tips from the talented speakers, but also ensure you avoid mistakes made by awful public speakers. If you’re speaking first, go to other events beforehand or watch some TED talks online. You’ll learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t just from watching others.
Tip #4: Don’t Over-Do it on the Caffeine
I was nervous pre-presentation, but one large Starbucks coffee, a Diet Coke, and 24 oz. sugar-free Red Bull later, nervous wasn’t quite the right word to describe it. Heart attack prone might be more accurate?
Do you think I’m crazy? Well, I’m blaming this one on Larry. When I practiced in front of him he told me I lacked energy and to consume a large quantity of caffeine before going on stage. He suggested Rockstar. I opted to take his advice a bit too literally and mixed Red Bull with a bunch of other caffeinated beverages; since I was already drained from traveling I reasoned it was a necessary precaution. The result? For a one-weak-cup-of-coffee-a-day type person, my body didn’t adjust quite well.
For regular caffeine consumers, drink maybe one or two extra cups for coffee, but if you’re already nervous just work off of your nervous energy. Adding caffeine to the mix might just heighten your nerves. Let’s just say my presentation did not lack ENERGY (I had wings!).
Tip #5: Make Fun of Yourself
I’m a huge fan of self-deprecation. It’s hilarious. Some of the best comics are funny solely because they make fun of themselves. I know, I know, you’re not a comedian, but people love to laugh. I started off my presentation by showing a sweaty picture of me sitting on the mother Duck in the Boston Garden.
Why? Because it’s embarrassing and hysterical.
Do you ever feel nervous or embarrassed for someone? Typically this happens in public scenarios with complete strangers. Perhaps, a teenager turned down by his crush, or a child who screwed up their lines in the school play. You feel their embarrassment because you’ve been there. You watch and pray that they’ll get up and laugh it off.
Well, this could be you during your presentation. Things don’t always go as planned. Your slides might get messed up (like mine did), you might stutter on your words, or even trip over the microphone cord, but whatever happens have a sense of humor about it. It will show the audience that you’re human, help them relate to you, and put everyone at ease.
The point is don’t take yourself too seriously. If someone goes wrong embrace it. If you’re having fun, your audience will too.