Speaking in front of audiences can be extremely nerve wracking. You may be in front of a screen or behind a podium with people in front of you, yet is can feel so lonely. Your palms may be sweating, thoughts in your head are racing and you feel like a nervous reck. Well, not to fear. I’ve interviewed Ron Tsang, author and public speaking expert to help you perform your best when it comes to public speaking.
Ron is an acclaimed keynote speaker himself, has a best-selling book on Amazon.ca called “From Presentation to Standing Ovation” and consults for corporate clients when it comes to effective communication. In our interview he shares how perfectionists should get over performing perfectly, his scariest public speaking moment and how to break the ice with smaller groups of people.
Katrina: You recommend a few different ways to beat anxiety before public speaking (i.e. playlists, physical movement, visualization) what’s your personal favorite and why?
Ron: Robin Williams used to do jumping jacks before going on stage at comedy clubs. If I feel the need to shake off my nerves and boost my energy before I speak, I love to do jumping jacks, too!
Research shows that one of the best ways to overcome your anxiety is to become excited!  And jumping jacks get your endorphins pumping without working up a sweat.
Katrina: You talk a lot about the importance of “investing” into yourself. Why should people work on their public speaking skills?
Ron: When I was an MBA student, I met billionaire Warren Buffett in Omaha, Nebraska. When asked what his best investment was, he said that it was “investing in himself” — especially in developing his public speaking skills.
Warren Buffett studied at Wharton and Columbia, but he doesn’t hang up those degrees on his wall. Instead, he only displays his certificate from a public speaking course, and he says that it was the best education he ever received!
Many employers agree. In a recent survey, 88% of IT professionals said that they need to be effective business communicators in the future in order to be successful.  And according to a recent survey from Oxford Economics, the skills that employers will need the most in the next 5 to 10 years are strong interpersonal and communication skills. 
Katrina: How important is it to buy into the idea of the message you’re speaking about?
Ron: It’s often said that “the first sale is always to yourself.” If you’re not convinced by an idea or message in your presentation, how can you expect to convince others?
Audiences subconsciously pay attention to the tone of your voice and to your body language, and they tend to notice if you don’t believe what you’re saying.
Katrina: You talk about being excellent rather than perfect, which I totally agree with. But it’s much easier said than done. Two questions here- Why do you preach that approach and how can Type A people get over perfection?
Ron: Perfectionists often suffer from paralysis by analysis. If you’re too afraid of making mistakes or of not “getting it right,” you may never take action! Stop waiting to give a perfect presentation! You have amazing career opportunities if you deliver excellent presentations to clients, management, and colleagues — even if they’re far from perfect.
If you’re a Type A type who’s having a hard time letting go of your perfectionism, focus on continuous improvement, instead. Learn to concentrate on “merely” making your next presentation better than your previous ones, instead of obsessing with perfection. Adopt the mindset of a student, get a coach — and focus on the journey, not the destination.
Katrina: What was the scariest speaking moment you’ve ever faced and why?
Ron: There were two speaking moments that turned me into a nervous wreck.
I was asked to be my university roommate’s best man and deliver a speech at the wedding reception near Toronto, Canada.
The bride is French-Canadian and the groom is Chinese, so it seemed appropriate for me to send inspirational wishes in English, Cantonese, and French. I can speak English. But my Cantonese is feeble and my French is even worse!
But I’ve never spoken in Cantonese, let alone in French, in front of 100 people before. And the speech in my head sounded so trite, especially after being deeply moved by a sincere and heartfelt speech from the maid of honor. I didn’t like what what I was going to say.
I turned to the wedding emcee for advice. He said: “Just keep it simple and speak from the heart.”
With minutes left to prepare, I rebooted my speech and started from scratch. I was terrified of embarrassing myself and being criticized by two different cultures. Had I bitten off more than I could chew?
But it was time. I walked onto the stage, picked up the microphone. I spoke briefly but passionately, and recited a few memorized lines in Cantonese and French.
Afterwards, attendees came up to me and said that it was one of the best wedding speeches they had ever heard!
My second scariest speaking moment came shortly after, when I was asked to emcee my cousin’s wedding near Anaheim, California — in English, Cantonese, and Korean!
Katrina: You talk about making a good first impression or starting off with an interesting statement before going into a speech. How can you apply that strategy when it comes to group conversations with a “smaller” audience?
Ron: When making small talk or participating in a group conversation, you can transition into a new conversation thread the way you might start a speech, and then follow up with an anecdote, story or other supporting evidence.
For example, you can begin by asking a provocative question, such as: “Did you know that during the Cold War, the CIA tried to spy on the Russians using cats?” Then pause and elaborate.
Or you could reference a shared moment: “Remember that one time, at band camp?” Then describe what happened.
You could also revisit something that was mentioned earlier: “Stephen Colbert was right — Elon Musk IS a super-villain.” Then elaborate.
Katrina: What’s a quick and easy tip that someone who has to make a public speech tomorrow can use that will give them a huge leg up?
Ron: Do your due diligence before you speak and focus on the needs of your audience.
Why should they listen to you? What’s in it for them?
What does your audience want to hear? What don’t they want to hear? What are their expectations, and how can you meet or even exceed them?
Katrina: You talk about the importance of being likable and trustworthy when relaying your message? Why is this so important?
Ron: Most of us prefer to work with, and do business with, people whom we like and trust. But for many of us, when we speak our body language may inadvertently signal to others that we’re uninterested and untrustworthy.
Your audience won’t know what you think or how you feel, unless you say it or show them. And no matter how valuable your message is, your audience won’t believe you if your words don’t match the tone of your voice, the expression of your face, and what you do with your body. So if you really are likeable and trustworthy, make sure that your nonverbal communication sends the message that you want to convey!
Katrina: You talk about the power of the word “you.” Why is focusing on the audience and them rather than on yourself more important when it comes to public speaking?
Ron: Effective speakers understand that their presentations are not just about them — so don’t bore your audience by droning on and on about yourself. Make sure that your audience doesn’t feel left out!
You become more valuable as a speaker if you relate to your audience’s problems, goals, and dreams — and if you help them out. And you’ll be more engaging to your audience when you use more of the words “you” and “we,” instead of “I” and “me.”
Interested in learning more about improving your public speaking? Check out Ron’s book here!