The average person ranks the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death. The truth is, this fear could be hurting your professional and personal life. You may have been there before. You feel nervous, your palms sweat, your stomach ties itself into knots. You don’t want to do it. You would rather do anything else than talk to someone. Is this you?
A wide variety of studies have crowned fear of public speaking – or glossophobia, for sticklers – as our king of all phobias. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, more than 40% of Americans confess to a dread of appearing before spectators. In some surveys, fear of public speaking even outranks fear of death, a fact that inspired Jerry Seinfeld’s famous observation that at a funeral, this means the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!
In business, it is essentially important for you to be able to get your point across. It is likely that all of us will one day have to speak in public. Whether we are giving a formal presentation to an audience, or simply asking our boss for a promotion, speaking skills are essential to getting ahead in a professional setting.
The fear of public speaking is very real. However, there are techniques to help you overcome it. There are even ways to help harness your energy in a positive way. Keep reading if you want to know how to knock your next presentation out of the park.
1) Get Organized
When you organize all of your thoughts and materials it helps you to become much more relaxed and calm. When you have clear, organized thoughts it can greatly reduce your speaking anxiety because you can better focus on the one thing at hand, giving a great speech.
Ahead of time, carefully plan out the information you want to present, including any props, audio or visual aids you'll use. The more organized you are, the less nervous you'll be. Use an outline on a small card to keep yourself on track. If possible, take time to visit the place where you'll be speaking and review available equipment before your presentation.
2) Practice And Prepare Extensively
Nothing takes the place of practicing and preparing for your speech. Write out a script of your key points, but don’t speak from it word for word. Prepare for your speech so well that you could answer any possible question thrown at you.
Practice your complete presentation several times. Do it for a few people you're comfortable with. Ask them to give you feedback. Or, record it with a video camera and watch it so that you can see opportunities for improvement.
3) Eliminate Fear Of Rejection
“What if my audience hates my speech? What if they boo me off stage?” Try to eliminate all of your fears of rejection. The audience is there to listen to you for a reason.
4) Focus On Patterns
When you speak, try to get into a rhythm or a flow. Keep you sentences short and to the point and repeat key points. A short pause in between points can add anticipation to what you are going to say next.
5) Watch Yourself In The Mirror
Practice your speech in front of the mirror as if you were speaking directly to someone.
Pay attention to:
Your facial expressions
Your body movements
How welcoming you appear
When you have gentle expressions and a calm demeanor when you speak, you will be more welcoming to your audience.
6) Record Yourself And Learn Your Voice
Record your speech on your phone or video camera. Record yourself giving the talk from beginning to end. Then listen to it and watch it, and make notes on how you could make it better. Some people do not like listening to the sound of their voice on tape, so it is important that you get used to your own voice and speaking style.
7) Work On Your Breathing
When you focus on your breathing, your voice will have more resonance AND you will relax. Breathe calmly and focus on getting into a rhythm. This can be very calming. Take two or more deep, slow breaths before you get up to the podium and during your speech.
8) Practice Some More
When someone asks me how they can build effective communication skills and improve their public speaking, I quote to them the words of Elbert Hubbard, who said, “The only way to learn to speak is to speak and speak, and speak and speak, and speak and speak and speak.”
9) Give Your Speech To Another Person
There are plenty of people you can practice on. Be sure to tell the person to be completely honest with you in their critique.
Examples of people you can practice on:
Your significant other
Speaking directly to another person will help relax you and give you experience with getting feedback from someone. If they have questions about your speech, it is likely that members of an audience will have the same questions.
10) Public Speaking Classes And Workshops
Find a great coach or mentor. There are many groups that you can join to learn the art of public speaking. A group such as Toastmasters is non-profit and helps people get over their fears by having them practice speaking on subjects over and over.
11) Lightly Exercise Before Speaking
Exercising lightly before a presentation can get your blood circulating and send oxygen to your brain. Take a walk before a speech or do a few knee bends.
12) Sip Water That’s Warm Or Room Temperature
Sometimes squeezing some lemon into you water helps as well. It especially helps lubricate your throat. Try to avoid sugary beverages before speaking. These can dry out your mouth and make it harder to talk.
13) Read Eloquence In Public Speaking By Dr. Kenneth Mcfarland
McFarland, who passed away in 1985, is also known as the “Dean of American Public Speakers”. In his book, he didn’t talk about methodology or technique at all. His central message, which influenced me very strongly when I began speaking publicly, was that the key to eloquence is the emotional component that the speaker brings to the subject.
To put it another way, the starting point of being an excellent speaker is for you to really care about your subject.
14) Pick A Subject That You Really Care About
How to pick a subject that you really care about:
The subject should have had an inordinate impact on you
You want to share it with others
You intensely feel others could benefit from your knowledge
You can speak about it from the heart
When you speak about something you passionately care about, you will be more comfortable and naturally feel more confident in your element.
15) Know 100 Words For Every Word That You Speak
Ernest Hemingway wrote that, “In order to write well, you must know 10 words about the subject for every word that you write. Otherwise, the reader will know that this is not true writing.”
I personally feel that, in speaking, you must know 100 words for every word that you speak. Otherwise, your audience will have the sense that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
16) Focus On The Material, Not The Audience
Focus on delivering your material in the best way possible. Don’t worry about audience reactions. People mainly pay attention to new information — not how it's presented. They may very well not notice your nervousness. If audience members do notice that you're nervous, they may root for you and want your presentation to be a success.
When you let go of your stress and relax, it eases your body and makes you less tense. Look at #24 for an interesting way that might help you to relax.
18) Don’t Overthink Audience Reactions
There is always going to be someone in the audience on their phone or yawning. Remember that there will always be people who are bored or tired. None of these audience reactions have anything to do with you personally.
19) Don't be afraid of a moment of silence.
If you lose track of what you're saying or you begin to feel nervous and your mind goes blank, it can seem like you've stopped talking for an eternity. But in reality, it's probably only a few seconds.
Even if it's longer, it's likely your audience won't mind a pause to consider what you've been saying. This might be a good time to take a few slow, deep breaths. In "The King’s Speech," a movie about the true story of King George VI, one of the successful strategies the speech therapist uses to help the king overcome his stuttering is the use of pauses. Pausing helped the king regain his composure whenever he was gripped by anxiety.
When you feel anxious while presenting, consider pausing more frequently. A few strategic pauses between points will have a beneficial, calming effect.
20) Avoid Talking Too Fast
Talking fast during a speech interferes with your breathing patterns. If you talk too fast, you will breathe less, and feeling short of breath will make you look panicked. Practice slowing down when you speak, and you will be much more calm and relaxed.
21) Make Your Nervous Energy Work For You
Learn to channel your nervous energy into positive energy. Being nervous is a form of adrenaline. You can use it in a positive way to help give an impassioned presentation.
22) Pay Any Price And Spend Any Amount Of Time To Speak Well
Make a decision right now that you want to learn to speak and learn to speak well. Be willing to pay any price and go to any lengths to achieve your goal.
I have seen people leapfrog over others in their careers by simply overcoming their speaking anxiety.
23) Have Pride In Your Work & Recognize Your Success
Your strongest critic is you. When you finish a speech or delivering a presentation, give yourself a pat on the back. You overcame your fears and you did it. Have pride in yourself. It may not have been perfect, but chances are you're far more critical of yourself than your audience is.
Everyone makes mistakes during speeches or presentations. Look at any mistakes you made as an opportunity to improve your skills.
24) Develop A Plan To Improve Your Next Speech
Practice makes perfect. If there is a video of your speech, watch it and make notes on how you can improve on it for next time.
How do you think you did?
Are there areas you think you could have improved?
Did you seem stiff or make any weird facial expressions?
Did you use a PowerPoint to your advantage? Did it help?
Did you use “um” often?
How was your rhythm?
Write everything down, keep practicing and improving. In time you will banish all of your fears of public speaking.
25) Don’t Try to Hide Your Fear
Efforts to hide your fear create the additional fear of being "found out" as a nervous person. This only adds to the public speaking anxiety you already experience.
It has another negative side effect. After you've given a speech, even if it has gone well, you may take no pride in your success because of this thought: "If they knew how afraid I was, they'd think less of me." I've worked with many successful business people who, despite their speech anxiety, actually presented frequently and did a good job. Unfortunately, because of their desire for secrecy, they thought they were "fooling people" and never felt satisfaction from their work. In order to progress and feel confident, they had to see that they were the ones being fooled - not the audience!
Finally, put your mind on developing your key messages and crafting your story. Replace time expended on worrying with time spent on preparing thoroughly for your presentation, by knowing your material cold, and practicing it beyond the point of pain. Then go out there and win them over!