You’ve probably heard that people are more afraid of speaking in front of a crowd than dying. You can take this as fact or with a grain of salt, but there’s no denying, there’s something about getting in front of a crowd that universally touches a nerve. Nabil Karim speaks to huge crowds – tens of thousands – nearly every night as the host of TSN’s SportsCentre.
The anchor is used to having all eyes on him while he recaps highlight packages, dishes on the latest trade rumour or ad libs with his co-hosts, it’s all happening live – no takebacks. But under the glare of the hot lights and gazes of a hundred thousand eyeballs, Karim has become comfortable having a conversation with large groups of people. And this talent for talk has translated into MCing and hosting gigs where Karim is front and centre of the room, an eager crowd waiting on his every word. Scary stuff? Not for him.
Karim wants to let you in on a little secret – public speaking doesn’t have to feel like a death sentence. Here, he shares tips for overcoming that sick feeling you get in your gut when speaking in front of a crowd, and how to give the people what they want while making sure your message is heard.
Every audience is different, so adhering to a strict routine no matter what is setting yourself up for failure. “That was one of my biggest stumbling blocks at first, because I would go up there generically and do the same thing for different events,” Karim explains. Instead, tailor your message ahead of time so that it’s easier to engage. “If you can’t connect with the audience, that's when you feel the anxiety, because you can tell. You can really tell when people are paying attention, and when they're not. When they're enjoying things and when they're connecting with you, you can see it. You can feel it.”
For most, the fear that surrounds public speaking is all about the unknown. They’ve had no exposure or experience with it, so it becomes something terrifying. “I had that anxiety. You feel that nervousness. You go up there, you start sweating a little and you're always wondering. There are always these what‑ifs. That's always in your mind,” says Karim.
The best way to combat that sinking feeling he says, is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Think like a high school math test. The more confident you feel, the less room there is for your doubt to grow. “If you're coming in there and you haven’t prepared, and you're just ad libbing it, good luck,” he says. If you’re still worried, Karim suggests bullet points on a notecard (see below for why you should keep them brief) to help refocus and stay on message.
There’s nothing worse than stilted, rehearsed monologues dictated from notes. You should know your topic well enough (see Preparation) that you can speak about it like a human being instead of just regurgitating words on a page. “When I'm on TV, I try to have a conversation with people; I try to be natural, as if we're sitting and talking at a bar.” Karim believes that speaking with them instead of at them always produces better results. “When you're talking to people, sometimes it goes right over their head. But when you're having a conversation it really seems to connect.”
This can be difficult, especially if your nerves are getting the best of you. But regardless of how you feel, you need to act like you belong there. “It's all about coming in there, having a bit of swagger, having a bit of confidence and knowing that you are there for a reason,” says Karim. Whether it’s presenting to a handful of colleagues at work or speaking to a crowd of hundreds, act like what you have to say matters. “People feed off that energy. If they see someone up there who is confident, who knows what they're talking about, who's charismatic, you’ve made your job so much easier.”
One way to keep audiences captivated is to have visual cues. If you don’t have the luxury of a projector or whiteboard, the best way to make others feel involved is to show that you yourself are engaged. Moving around, gesturing and being all-around animated is a great way to show people you care about whatever it is you’re talking about. “It helps to make a point by gesturing with your hands in an appropriate way,” explains Karim. “I'm a big fan of walking around, if possible. I hate standing at podiums. It feels very formal to me.” Bottom line – a little life in your limbs can inject a lot of life into your presentation.
To catch Karim’s presentation skills in real life, watch him on SportsCentre or follow along @nabilkarim.