I used to be a terrible public speaker. In fact, I was so bad that I was in danger of failing a required course in graduate school on public speaking. I had to learn how to be a confident, effective public speaker by working at it and being open to critical feedback.

Now I get paid to speak around the country (well for now, it’s virtually). How did I get better at it and turn it into a career?

I practiced. I listened to feedback. I put myself in my audience’s shoes. I stopped relying on my slides and instead used them only as visuals and mental cues. And most of all, I added personal elements into my presentations, telling stories from my own experiences and injecting humor where I could.

Speaking in front of a large crowd is not a natural activity for anyone – even if you’re an extrovert like me – and to master it, you need to prepare and practice (but don’t overdo it – I think there’s such a thing of over preparing).

Recognize that nerves are normal and don’t let them stop you from speaking confidently. It’s a natural part of the public speaking process.

When taking the time and making the effort to communicate, you really want to have an impact not just on how people think and feel, but on how they behave.

Always remember that it’s not about you, it’s about your audience. Don’t just think about what you want to say, think about what your audience needs to hear.

Take the time to figure out the best way to tailor your message to your audience — what approach will keep their attention and resonate with them?

The next time you have to give a presentation, consider the following:

  • What does the audience really need to know?
  • How can you break the subject down into the essentials they can use?
  • Outline what you plan to say rather than write out your speech word-for-word
  • How can you use visuals and big numbers/words to bring your points to life in your slides?
  • Provide no more than 5 easily digestible takeaways that cover your major points
  • Engage with your audience
  • Smile
  • Slow down as much as you can
  • Tell personal stories
  • Great slides don’t repeat what you’re saying, they should enhance your narrative with evocative visuals and minimal words.
  • Look for visual cues from the audience. Are people yawning or rolling their eyes? Does your audience look bored? Maybe that means you might want to skip unnecessary details.
  • Take your bullets, charts and data points and put them into handouts that you can give to your audience at the right time
  • When it comes to what you’re projecting, try to communicate with images not words – and only add words and data when absolutely necessary
  • If you’re presenting numbers, it’s critical to think about what the numbers mean as opposed to just the numbers themselves, making sure to include the benefits to your audience
  • Practice your speech or presentation out loud ahead of time so you feel comfortable with the words you’re saying and the way they sound coming out of your mouth. And if you can get feedback from a friend, family member or colleague, an outside perspective can be helpful, especially if you’re new to presenting.
  • Sum up your presentation with key takeaways to help them process the information
  • Every presentation should have an action goal-the action you want your audience to take after hearing you speak
  • End your presentation with “homework” for your audience – things they can implement directly from what they learned from your presentation and give a bonus tip
  • Be yourself! Let who you are come through and have fun, that’s the only way your audience will too and it helps engage them.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for what’s worked well for you when presenting!