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Public speaking is a major fear for many people. The idea of having to voice your opinion or thoughts in front of a group of people – large or small – may be what your nightmares are made of. Fortunately for you, you’re not alone!
You may have heard a few tips in the past (like picturing the audience wearing a clown nose or sitting there in their underwear), but using your imagination can be pretty difficult in a moment of heightened anxiety. Because everyone is a bit different, we wanted to compile a list of different public speaking tips to help you overcome your public speaking fear.
We spoke to a group of experienced public speakers and asked them to share their best tips to help you overcome your fear of public speaking. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Practice Makes Perfect
Being prepared for the event you’re speaking at is a big part of overcoming fear of public speaking. The more you practice, the more you can reassure yourself that you’re going to be able to do well when it comes time for the actual event. Practice presenting to the mirror or in front of friends and family before the big event.
“The more you practice, the easier preparation will be each time you present in front of people,” says Stephanie Venn-Watson , CEO of Fatty15. “The process you go through to prepare will become more streamlined and you’ll get more comfortable with what you need to do to be successful.”
2. Do Your Homework
Research is also critical – if you haven’t done your research on the topic being spoken about, you’ll likely feel less prepared and ultimately increase your fear of speaking publicly. Do thorough research and take good notes so you can have enough time to prepare an eloquent and educated presentation or speech.
“Often, the fear of public speaking originates from not feeling qualified to present the material you are speaking on,” says Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “If you do research beforehand – enough to both write your speech and answer any potential questions afterward – you’ll be able to overcome a good portion of that fear because you have knowledge on your side.”
3. Focus on the Facts – Not Faces
There is a lot to look at when you’re in front of people presenting information to them. While it can be tempting to keep an eye on their reactions to gauge how you’re doing, people often assume the worst and mistake a passive appearance for boredom or disapproval. While there is a certain art to feeding off of your audience’s energy, it can be difficult to hone in on that skill if you’re still trying to overcome your fear of speaking. Instead, focus on your research and passion that has brought you to this point.
“The more you can focus on your speech and facts, the easier it becomes to present to an audience,” says Matt Miller, Founder and CEO of Embroker. “Depending on the group size and how far you are from them, it can be easier to keep your gaze on the back wall or just past where the lights allow you to see into the audience. Now, this can be a bit trickier if you’re presenting to a more intimate group of people, but focusing on a specific feature (not their eyes) can make it easier. Look at each person’s nose or hairline instead.”
4. Use Prompts
Even the most experienced presenters will bring prompts just in case they need them. The slightest distraction can throw you off your script – or maybe you come up with a great snippet to add during the presentation – prompts can help you get back on track and focus on the practiced information.
“Prompts don’t have to be obvious or even consistent during an instance of public speaking,” says Alan Ahdoot, Founder and Partner at Adamson Ahdoot LLP. “For someone who’s trying to overcome a fear of public speaking, prompts can reduce anxiety to a massive degree. Whether they’re on small note cards, notes only shown to the presenter through a powerpoint presentation, or even a prompter screen, having this aid with you can take a weight off of your shoulders.”
5. Choose Topics You Stand For
Presenting is scary enough for someone with a fear of public speaking. Choosing a topic that’s out of your wheelhouse is not going to help you in overcoming that fear. Even if you have to speak for a certain purpose or around a certain theme, it helps to incorporate something you’re passionate about into your speech as well.
“Even in the instance you have a topic chosen for you to present in a speech or at a public speaking event, you should find a way to make it personal and share a bit of yourself,” says Drew Sherman, Director of Marketing and Communications at RPM. “Not only does this make you more personable as a presenter, but it helps you feel a bit more confident – after all, you are the expert on your own life. Open up with a story about a time you learned a lesson or saw something that inspired you to lead into your topic. This can grab the audience’s attention and help you ease into the speech at the same time.”
6. Don’t Try to Memorize
This may go against some of your public speaking or communications class assignments, but if you’re not required to turn in an official script of your speech – don’t memorize! The problem with memorization and public speaking is that if you make a mistake, it’s hard to recover. Forgetting one word can throw off the rest of the speech.
“Use note cards with bullets or have a powerpoint that covers your main points to help you along,” says Phillip Akhzar, CEO of Arka. “Even having a slideshow of cheesy stock photos that represent different portions of your speech can help you stay on track. You’ll want to make sure you cover all of your main points well but memorizing tends to make the speech sound less natural, cause even greater anxiety, and you won’t have the same type of connection with the audience.”
7. Work Your Way Up
There are certain types of speeches that make people nervous. It might seem odd to others, but some people find it most intimidating to speak in front of small groups of people they know well (like a group of coworkers). If you know there’s a certain group that intimidates you more than another, try to work your way up (or down) to that group.
“Many people struggle with speaking in front of a specific audience type – whether the large auditoriums make them feel small or they’re more nervous in front of their peers,” says Caroline Duggan, Chief Brand Officer at Lumineux. “Look for opportunities to present in front of slightly larger groups or groups including a few coworkers instead of all of them.”
8. Destress Before Speaking
Find a routine or a habit that you can get into that will help you calm down before a speaking engagement. This will help you mentally prepare for the speech itself and also give you something predictable to focus on for the minutes or hours before your speech.
“Create a playlist to listen to in the car on the way to an event or use breathing techniques before you take the stage,” says Lilian Chen, Co-Founder and COO of Bar None Games. “Having a habit can destress you by providing something else to focus on and also giving you something familiar to grasp when you’re walking into a situation that does cause you stress.”
9. Personality is Power
While it can be scary to expose yourself to your audience, don’t forget to let them see and hear from YOU. Sure, it can be great to take inspiration for your presentation techniques and delivery from a famous speaker or to aim for professionalism, but this doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate your personality too.
“Great public speakers know how to incorporate their personality and natural speaking voice into their presentations,” says Randee Machina, Director of Marketing at Simpli Pleasures. “People don’t want to sit there and listen to a robotic presentation that’s void of any interesting anecdotes, interjections, or comments. You can be professional and still have a personality.”
10. Feeling Nervous is Normal
Even after following all of these tips you may still feel those nervous butterflies in your stomach before you speak publicly. That’s okay! In fact, even some of the best public speakers in the world still get nervous before a speaking engagement. Turn that anxiety into excitement!
“Use that nervousness and channel it into excitement,” says Datha Santomieri, Co-Founder and Vice-President at Steadily. “Physiologically, nervousness is nearly identical to excitement. Intentionally making yourself think positively by telling yourself you’re excited rather than anxious can make a world of difference as you step into the spotlight for your public speaking engagement.”
While public speaking may never be your favorite activity, we hope at least one of these tips can help you overcome your fear of public speaking. Many of our professionals spoke to being true to yourself and not striving for perfection as you approach public speaking. It also seems to be advisable to research and practice your speech prior to the engagement to help alleviate that public speaking anxiety you might feel. If all else fails, you can channel that nervous energy into excitement and use it to motivate you to get in front of that audience.
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