Conquer that fear of public speaking

Are you one of the 3 in 4 people who are terrified of public speaking? Discover how to succeed on stage today!

Studies have shown that over 73 per cent of the population has a fear of public speaking — and apparently, some people fear it more than death itself. Jerry Seinfeld interpreted this as meaning that at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. 

The phobia of public speaking is real and can range from slight nervousness, to a paralysing feeling of fear and panic. It is not just the fear of making a fool of yourself, being judged or forgetting your words that might hold you back from being a great speaker; you might also fear your own physical reaction, which for some, results in a shaking voice, blushing or even trembling hands. 

Many people avoid public speaking at all costs, going out of their way to not pursue careers or situations that could involve standing up and taking the stage in front of others. In doing so, they may keep themselves in careers or experiences that they deem as being ‘safe’, often passing up opportunities for promotion. I know of a few people who deliberately take a day off work, get sick or arrive late to a meeting in the hope that they miss out on even those dreaded customary introductions (‘Let’s go round the table and introduce ourselves.’). Although these avoidance techniques provide immediate relief they are not a long-term solution. 

Public speaking, whether it is standing up at a conference, presenting at work, facilitating a team meeting or giving the best-man’s speech, really doesn’t need to be the frightening experience we believe it to be. We will explore the different steps you can take to build up your public-speaking confidence muscle. Think of this journey just like learning how to ride a bike — you may feel a bit wobbly at first but after time you will gradually find it much easier. In my experience, people who have struggled with public speaking for years do successfully learn to control their fears and many end up really enjoying speaking in public! 

Preparation
If you know your stuff in advance, you will be well on your way to setting yourself up for success and improving your public-speaking confidence. Don’t allow your fears to cause you to procrastinate or hold you back from giving yourself sufficient time to prepare; bite the bullet, go for it and of course don’t forget to use encouraging thoughts to remind yourself that you will be fine.

Always make sure you get to the location or venue early so you can check out the room in a relaxed way — you can also make sure that all the technical equipment is working.

If you are lucky enough to be able to choose a topic to speak about, aim for something you are passionate about and that makes you feel good. When you present, your energy will be infectious and people will pick up on your enthusiasm and be more interested in what you have to say.

If your topic has been chosen for you, don’t be scared to make it uniquely yours; tell stories and bring your personality into the topic. Telling a good story in a presentation can really help connect you to your audience and also enables you to tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

The night before your speech, also make sure you get a good night’s sleep. You could even try listening to some relaxing music or meditating to chill you out even more.

Practise, practise, practise!
I am sure you have heard this before, but practising your presentation beforehand will boost your confidence on the day. Even experienced speakers rehearse their speeches many times to make sure their brain becomes familiar with the words and to set themselves up to deliver a successful live performance. One of my personal tips is to stand in front of a mirror while practising. Most people dislike looking at themselves in the mirror, so if you can get comfortable in this process, speaking in front of others will feel a little less daunting.

When I was just starting out in my own speaker career, I made sure I was armed with a good selection of visual aids such as presentation slides to help trigger my memory. Although you may fear giving a ‘death by PowerPoint’ speech, don’t hold back from writing down key words or triggers on your slides if you think it will help you. Having a visual for your audience to look at will also reassure you that people are not just staring straight at you. Even the thought of giving a speech to people who are not looking at you is always easier.

I also find that memorising the first few lines of my presentation always helps me to feel more confident at the beginning of a presentation, especially while I am just getting comfortable on stage or getting used to the equipment and microphone.

Learn to be yourself
Allowing yourself to be authentic on stage will help you relax, have fun and be more confident. Don’t try to be something you are not, because people will see straight through you — and let’s face it, trying to be something you are not often feels awkward anyway.

Being honest about your skills is a tip that has also served me well. I am often asked to speak at, or chair, conferences where I know little about either the organisation or the other topics in the conference. Of course I do my preparation but there are times when the subject matter is rather technical or I am the only speaker covering a ‘soft skills’ topic such as confidence. As a result, I usually admit my lack of technical knowledge early on and it is interesting to see the audience warm to me, often laughing with me when I make a pronunciation mistake or am unable to answer a technical question.

I really encourage you to take an honest and authentic approach with your audience. If you are feeling nervous, just admit it! This will help you relax and, importantly, have your audience supporting you in doing well. Also, imagine their surprise when you give them a great presentation despite your nervousness.

Speak to one person at a time
For some people, the most terrifying thing about public speaking is thinking about the audience. I have found that what can often help is to pick someone in the audience and imagine you are talking only with them, as if there were nobody else in the room. If someone does ask you a question, you can simply change your focus to them in order to answer the question.

Imagine yourself succeeding
Even if you have already completed the visualisation action step, do this each time before you speak. Imagine yourself giving a great speech, with everything going really well. Also conjure those feelings of pleasure and pride in yourself when you have finished. Learn to visualise success and your body will follow suit.

Dress confidently
Look your best. Take some time with your appearance and wear clothes in which you feel comfortable and professional. If you are happy with your appearance, you will feel more confident.

Remember to breathe
If you feel anxious, it is perfectly okay to stop for a few moments and take a breath. I often have a glass of water on stage for those times, and I find it really helps me to slowly drink some water and catch my breath. This gives me sufficient time to ground myself and get back on track.

To summarise, you are the person who can make your journey to public speaking as easy or as difficult as you choose. You can choose to frighten yourself and convince yourself you are going to fail, or you can choose to set yourself up for success by setting realistic expectations. You also have the choice to focus on your mistakes or give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for doing your best, even if things did not work out perfectly.

The Confidence Coach is available here - RRP $24.99

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Inspired and ready to finally conquer that fear of public speaking? Why not join Toastmasters.

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