10 Ways to Conquer the Fear of Public Speaking

“There are two kinds of speakers in the world. Those who are nervous, and those who are liars.” Mark Twain

Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is one of our most common fears. In fact, research suggests that public speaking is the number one fear in Australia. The second greatest fear is death! If you have a fear of public speaking, you are not alone. You can learn to overcome this fear to speak confidently in front of others.

Fear is the anticipation of pain. Is your fear real or imagined? We tend to fear how people will judge us, whether we will be ridiculed, whether we will make mistakes, sound stupid and forget what we were going to say. We feel exposed in front of our audience, like we are going to be judged and criticised for everything we say and do. But feeling nervous and anxious before public speaking is totally normal. It is not something to be feared but rather to be expected, embraced and utilised to improve performance.

So how can we channel the normal anxiety response we feel before speaking in public? The old saying “just imagine the audience naked” is not recommended and can in fact be rather off-putting! Here are 10 practical strategies to help you develop into a confident public speaker;

1. Face your fear
We fear not knowing what will happen when we are in front of people, giving a speech or presentation. Your fear is not that you don’t know your topic. It is that you don’t know what will happen when you step up in front of everyone. The fear of being judged, making a mistake, not measuring up or getting hurt can get in the way of a good performance. Remember that people in the audience really honestly want you to succeed. Nobody is there hoping you’ll be boring or do badly. If you are coming from an authentic place, and you cover the material with clarity, you’ve won 75% of your inner battle with fear.

2.  Don’t be nervous about your nervousness
It is perfectly natural to feel nervous prior to public speaking. If you try to tell yourself to not be nervous, this sets an unrealistically high and unattainable expectation. If we tell ourselves to not be nervous, and we become nervous, we believe we have failed to control our responses and can then make a range of catastrophic interpretations about how the event will run. This creates even more nervousness. If you set more realistic expectations and expect that you will become nervous as a normal part of public speaking you will be less likely to judge yourself and this can limit your reaction to normal nervousness rather than full-blown panic. And slow breathing can help you to relax.

3.  No one is perfect so don’t expect this from yourself
In preparing for public speaking, many people rehearse line for line the material expecting that they will be able to get up and speak flawlessly. Again, this is an unrealistic expectation. The more rigid your attempts to stick to the script, the more chance there is to either put your audience to sleep or make an error. It is not whether you make a mistake, but how you recover from a mistake.

4.  Your performance is not your self-worth
Many people build up the importance of an event so that it forms the basis for their sense of self-worth. Your performance in how you fare with public speaking is not a measure of your worth as a person, nor is it a measure of your intelligence. Public speaking is a skill and like all skills, with practice and development you can improve significantly.

5.  Don’t play it too safe
Trying to read from a script word for word is a safe way of ensuring you don’t make mistakes. However it also runs the risk that your audience will become disconnected and you will lose the value of the message you are trying to communicate. Good public speaking is about engaging with your audience as much as it is conveying information. Communication is about developing a relationship which involves injecting your personality.

6.  Preparation matters
Break down your message into speaking points. A speaking point is a reminder for you of what you are going to discuss next. Use this and your preparation to speak more naturally (and genuinely) than if you are reading word for word.

7.  Repeat the message
Research shows that people are more willing to believe something they hear more than once even if they hear it from the same person. The saying “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them” holds true.

8.  Eye contact
I have heard people say that when they present the fix their eyes upon the back of the room. While this may help them to feel less nervous, it runs the risk of seeming disconnected from the audience and losing your message. Eye contact is your way of reaching out to people and talking to them directly. It makes people feel important that in a roomful of people, you are choosing to speak to them directly.

9.  Tell stories
Stories are a powerful communication tool. It allows people to connect with real life experience of real people and can be used as a vehicle to illustrate your main points perfectly. Be careful with humour and do not ridicule, denigrate or identify individual persons. The best way to use stories is to align them with the goals of your talk.

10.  Get them to Think, Engage and Act.
A good presentation aims to get the audience to think and to personalise the topic to their own professional or personal lives. The second task is to get the audience to engage through authenticity and laughter. Laughter provides a positive emotional connection between people. Use stories and anecdotes, preferably true stories with a funny aspect rather than telling a joke. Empathy is another powerful connection tool. The final task is to encourage the audience to act. You have framed the problem, personalised it, made your audience think then provided solutions and strategies as well is the confidence to act.

You have gifts and talents. Sharing your gifts and talents is the best way to connect with your purpose. There are audiences who want to hear from you and will benefit from what you have to say.

“Your vulnerability is powerful. Your stories matter. You matter. Don’t let fear of public speaking get in your way anymore.” ~ Sam

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