Today, many work environments require you to do some degree of public speaking. It may be speaking at a workplace meeting, giving a presentation to your team, delivering a workshop at a conference or presenting awards. We are also called on to give speeches at weddings, funerals, ‘big’ birthdays and farewells. Whatever the reason, for many people the prospect of standing up in front of others sends them to jelly.
But be assured, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can overcome it or at least manage it!
Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, remains the number one fear—even above the fear of death! It affects introverts and extroverts alike and it is estimated that 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety. The problem is, if you don’t overcome it, or at least manage it, this anxiety may impact your career.
Here are six pointers to help you overcome the fear of public speaking.
1. Be prepared
Very few people can wing an inspiring delivery. Take the time to plan what you want to say. Write it down. Re-write it. Have a strong opening to get your audience’s attention. Prepare well in advance so you have time to practise.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Anyone who has reached success in their field has spent time practising and honing their skills. Athletes put hours, days, weeks and months of practice into their code. This gives them physical and mental toughness. It creates confidence that they have put in the work so they will reap the reward. Most athletes will tell you after a successful event that they have been working hard towards the goal and it paid off.
Public speaking is no different! Practice makes perfect.
Stand in front of a mirror or a webcam and deliver your speech or presentation over and over again. You will ‘see’ how you look and sound. The more you say it, the calmer you become.
3. Visualise success
Tell yourself you have it nailed! You’ve got this! It’s going to be a success. Don’t underestimate the power of visualisation. See yourself delivering a successful presentation to your bosses with them totally engaged in what you have to say.
4. Engage relaxation techniques: breathing, stretching, meditation.
Diaphragm breathing, relaxation stretches, meditation, calming activities. Whatever you do to relax. Maybe listen to music for 10 minutes before you have to be up front. Whatever works for you to get your heart rate slowed!
5. Re-interpret your physical response to your anxiety.
Simon Sinek, the third most watched TED talks presenter says turn your nervousness into excitement.
Instead of thinking of clammy hands, heart racing, and shaky legs as nervous tell yourself these are happening because you are excited! Adopt the half-full glass philosophy and look at the positive side of your reaction. A bit of excitement before you start is a good way to keep you focused.
6. Drink water.
This was a great tip I was given when I had to speak at a funeral. Apparently, you physically can’t cry and drink at the same time. So if you feel a bit overwhelmed, pause, take a sip of water and carry on. I can tell you from experience that it works!
So what about some of the simple delivery techniques you can master to keep your audience’s attention.
Speed of delivery. When I was nervous I would always speak quickly. So my teacher would tell me to prepare my speech with a big margin and in it write SLOW. It was a good visual reminder; one I have never forgotten
Voice modulation. Nerves can often make the pitch of our voice high. Deep breaths can help can us and bring our pitch down. Don’t speak in a monotone. Use a variety of pitches and tones. If you are using a microphone, don’t shout! If it is fixed to a lectern, be careful not to turn too far away from it resulting in sound loss
Control body movement. It is important to use movement when you are speaking but control mannerisms. Taking glasses on and off, hands in your pocket, nodding head or waving your arms and hands so people are focused on these and not what you are saying. Nerves can increase our mannerisms, which is why practice is so important. You can see what it looks like.
The Power of the pause. A pause is a powerful tool particularly when you are trying to make a point. Barack Obama had it down to a fine art. Use three to eight-second pauses, either before key statements or after a story. You can also use it gather your thoughts. Pause, look around at your audience, then start again. You’ll have them with you!
Eye contact with your audience. This can be tough to do but the audience will feel like you are having a conversation with them. Don’t scan the room, actually pick out someone and address them. Complete your point or thought before moving to catch the eye of someone else. If direct eye contact is too tricky, pick a place on their forehead between their eyes. They think you are looking directly at them and you will feel less intimidated.
Remember, the best thing you can do is practice and practice some more and watch examples of excellent public speakers. Good luck.