If you had told me before I walked into my first environmental activism group meeting how much public speaking would be required, I would have likely turned right around. To this day, I deal with an issue that is very common: I get really nervous when I’m speaking in front of a group.
When I started my journey as an activist, I would shake so badly that it affected my voice; and that was when I was only facing a couple people at a time. I can remember a few times when I completely blanked on my talking points. This used to frustrate me to the point of almost giving up, but recently I realized that to keep my eco-message alive, I need to embrace the task of public speaking.
I have now spoken to groups of over one hundred people with few mistakes. There are a few tricks that helped me get to this place that I’d like to share with YOU:
1. SPEAK ABOUT SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT
An extrinsic motivator for many of my peers, along with myself, is the cause that puts us behind that podium. For some, this may be feeding the homeless in their community, while others may be more passionate about community gardening. If you speak from the heart it gives your presentation a sense of purpose, and the audience can tell.
2. DON’T USE FLASHCARDS
While nerves may compel you to over-prepare, this might actually be to your disadvantage. You can be disconnected from your audience by lack of eye contact, even if you are passionate and prepared. Plus, trying to keep track of lines and their wording can add extra stress you really don’t need. Stick to remembering a few key points and the transitions will flow with it.
3. DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE
While your body may want to tense up as you’re standing there in front of others, try to maintain normal body function. Breathing may seem like common sense, but breathing too much or not enough can add stress and be disruptive to your presentation. Notice you’re normal breathing pace before you get on stage and when you feel out of control, try to go back to that. The pacing can also help with the flow of your words. A natural demeanor will decrease stress for you and better connect you to your audience.
4. FOCUS ON THE INDIVIDUALS IN YOUR AUDIENCE
A crowd of unrecognizable faces is far more intimidating than the face of a parent, friend, or peer. Try to make eye contact with those people in the audience as you warm up to the situation. Once you’re comfortable, make eye contact with others as if they’re also your peer. Your connection with them through body language will put you more at ease and further engage them in your presentation. If possible try to get your audience involved by having them ask questions or asking them questions yourself. People are the most engaged when they have a part to play.
The saying “practice makes perfect” has some truth to it! After joining the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council I was given opportunities to push myself to do more presentations. Guess what! After each one…I got better and less nervous! Seek out opportunities to challenge yourself and refine your skills — you may be surprised by how well you can do. (Why not start now? Applications to join the 2017 Roots & Shoots NYLC are open to U.S. students in 8-11 grades right now! Learn more here.)
There are plenty more ways to tackle your nerves but these are the ones that have been most helpful for me. If you’re feeling inspired, explore some ideas for your next Roots & Shoots project or, contact a current NYLC Member for specific advice and mentoring for your Roots & Shoots group or classroom. Do everything you can now, so you can ace your next presentation with passion!