8 Ways to Overcome Your Fears and Become a Stronger Public Speaker
By Brenda R. Smyth
The anxiety caused by public speaking looms large in my memories of being a young professional. I’ll never forget a moment during a tradeshow reception when my boss handed me a microphone and asked me to say a few words to welcome our 150 guests. I froze and to this day, I don’t remember a word I said. Another time, when I had weeks to prepare for my portion of a company-wide annual meeting, I still recall my sweaty palms and the panic I felt as I waited (thoroughly prepared) for my turn at the podium.
The fear of public speaking may not be rational, but it’s certainly real with an estimated 50 to 75 percent of people experiencing some level of anxiety. For half of those people, that fear is one of their top three fears (right up there with death).
Feeling nervous about speaking is natural—it’s just the way we’re wired. When we start to feel nervous, it triggers a fight-or-flight reaction complete with many physiological responses meant to prepare us for danger. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t tell the difference between life-threatening and not life-threatening nervousness.
A few tricks certified trainers share to help overcome your public speaking fear
Notice the voice in your head … and shift it. As you approach speaking situations, you may be thinking, “Oh, everyone’s looking at me. Oh, I could make a mistake. Oh, I can’t believe I’m up here.” These fears will trigger fight-or-flight. Instead, let’s shift that mindset to our audience. Notice what we’re thinking, catch it and replace it with positive thoughts, “This is going to be fun. This is a topic I really enjoy. I want everyone to leave here with a better understanding of __.”
Practice and get comfortable with the room prior to your presentation. Practice your presentation the way it’ll be delivered in front of at least one person. Also get to know what it would be like to be in the audience by sitting in that back row beforehand. Know (but don’t memorize) the material you’ll present. We lose our connections to the audience if we don’t come across as spontaneous.
As part of your preparation, outline your key points along with a strong intro and conclusion. Be conversational rather than scripted, so your speech stays alive and in the moment. But give some thought to the flow of your speech What are the points you want to make What evidence or supporting material will you include in each section
Capitalize on the extra adrenaline you have at the start by turning it into energy. Excitement is contagious and can help you get your audience enthused. Add to this by asking them to get involved within the first minute or two. That’ll give you time to catch your breath and settle in.
Modern audiences expect to participate, so think of ways to involve them. When you tell a joke, they’re laughing. When you tell a story to help make your point, they’re reliving the experience with you. Asking questions, doing activities, sharing with the person sitting next to you—these are all good ways to build participation into presentations.
Give your audience different ways to take in the information. People learn in different ways. Giving our audience something to focus on other than our words accommodates this. Visual learners benefit from a PowerPoint® or handout. Others benefit by taking notes. For kinesthetic learners, moving around can help. Add variety and interactivity where possible.
Develop a strong speaking voice. Speaking slowly (between 120 and 160 words per minutes) and in a lower voice register is easier to listen to. Work to control several stress-induced speech characteristics such as speeding up, talking in a high-pitched voice or even using crutch words instead of pauses. Get comfortable with silence and practice pausing between phrases instead of sentences to help naturally slow yourself down. To help lower your pitch, practice relaxing your throat and jaw muscles by yawning or repeating sounds such as “nah, nay, nee, no, noo.”
Have a powerful conclusion. A call to action is the perfect way to close a persuasive presentation. Most conclusions have two main parts. First, reiterate your main points in a different way that helps your audience remember. And second, be memorable by using a quote, testimonial or story, or by referring to something you mentioned at the beginning of your presentation.
Fear of public speaking is common. Conquering it takes practice and planning. But the ability to comfortably speak in front of an audience is a skill that can play a big part in any career.
Developing a meaningful, sustainable vision requires a number of components:
It is a future you want to live into, but it is something you can “be” right now.
It moves your emotions and inspires you to action.
There are few words, no mumbo jumbo, and it is easy to recall.
It is a cause that is greater than yourself, and compels others to want to be a part of it, too.
It is exhilarating, even risky, and challenges you every day to reach beyond the limits you have placed on yourself.
Write these components on a chart. If your organization or team has a vision, evaluate its “inspiration” factor based on the above criteria.
If your organization or team doesn’t have a vision, invent one for yourself or your work group that inspires you.
Vision: The preferred state of the future; An ideal and unique image for the future.
Mission: The aim or purpose; The “What” and “How” to bring about the vision.