Public Speaking Tips for the Theatrically TimidLet’s face it, fundraising involves speaking. Lots of it.

We speak to individuals. We speak to groups. We speak to volunteers, donors, staff, peers, bosses, everyone. And some of the best exposure we can get for our cause is doing public speaking to larger groups like service organizations, or depending on your cause, even conferences.

Despite this common requirement in fundraising, many of us seem really scared. Sure, there are some that love a stage. They seem energized and confident and able to command the crowd.

But what about the rest of us?

I’ve been speaking in front of groups large and small all my life. I’ve recently been coaching a client in growing in confidence as a speaker and I’m realizing that most of the advice I’ve received about public speaking has been just plain wrong. Here are 2 1/2 tips I find useful. I hope you’ll add your own in the comments!

1. Look for friendlies

The bad speaking advice is to look over peoples’ heads at the back wall. The theory is people are dumb enough to not notice you’re (literally) talking over their heads.

Sorry. That doesn’t work. And it makes you look silly.

Instead, try to find a few friendlies early on in your presentation. Friendlies are easy to find. Just look for smiling people that are nodding their head with you. You don’t want to talk to them the entire time. But it is amazing how energizing it is to come back to them throughout your talk.

If you’re really strategic, look for friendlies in each quadrant of the audience. That does make it feel more like you’re talking to every one.

2. Treat people like human beings

Chances are good you wouldn’t want anyone imagining you in your underwear, why would you try inflicting that on others?!

Mildly self-deprecating humor is a great way to treat people like humans, even if you’re not normally humorous. You can just created a standard joke about how nervous you are. Don’t dwell on the nervousness, but be real.

You could even make people feel great by explaining your nervousness is due to this group being so amazing at ________ [fill in the blank]. Don’t lie. But look for things that they might be doing that intimidate you.

I’m not advocating being sloppy. You should know your material. There’s nothing worse than a presenter that is nervous and clueless. Don’t be that guy.

2 1/2. Answer people like humans

One of the scariest things about speaking is that, if you are even the slightest level of interesting, people might have questions. But even if you know there was to know about your cause, you’d still get questions you don’t know how to answer.

So treat people like human beings by being authentic. You can start out by acknowledging the person and then you can ask the audience how they would answer it:

“Wow. That’s a great question. Does anyone here want to take a crack at it?”

This gives the questioner a bit of an ego boost — they were praised by the presenter — and there’s usually always someone in the group dying to speak. You’re now inviting them to speak while giving yourself time to come up with an answer of your own.

The thing is, as you grow in confidence, you’ll realize that your audience is lot smarter than you. So you’ll actually turn the question to them because you really want to find out what they think.

Those are my 2 1/2 tips. What would you add?

Tell us in the comments!

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