Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

by ianmckenzie on November 1, 2013

 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain said, “There are two types of public speakers: those who are afraid and those who are liars.” For anyone who fits into one of those two groups, how do you overcome the fear and become better speaker?

You’re not going to eliminate the fear factor, but you can learn to get past the fear. Here are 6 basic steps all successful public speakers have mastered:

Be Prepared

It’s not just the Boy Scout motto. If you really want your confidence to sky rocket, be totally and thoroughly prepared. The more prepared you are to give a talk, the more confident you become. Prepare by writing out your presentation, at the every least have an outline and rehearse it more than once. At the very least, practice your stories and be sure to have stories every time you present. Try to memorize your opening, your stories, and your closing.

Preparation means not only knowing your subject, but knowing your audience and what they need to hear. Evaluating your audience is a critical but frequently overlooked aspect of presentation preparation. When you you understand your audience and their expectations, you can tailor your presentation content, language, and style to communicate effectively. That will make you more confident that the material you are presenting is appropriate and useful to the audience.

Expect the Best

Unless your speaking in a prison, you’re not talking to a captive audience. If they didn’t want to hear what you had to say, they wouldn’t be there. Take courage from the fact that you have been asked to speak because the organizers feel you have something to say to their group.

Use Your Nervous Energy

The trick is not to get rid of the fear, but to harness and control it. Your fear is energy and you can channel that energy into your speech.

Before standing up to give a presentation, it is a good idea to try to release some of this pent up tension through a simple, unobtrusive isometric exercise. Starting with your toes and calf muscles, tighten your muscles up through your body finally making a fist. Immediately release all of the tension and take a deep breath. Repeat this exercise until you feel the tension start to drain away.

Get Out in Front

Don’t hide behind your material. When we are nervous we tend to read our speeches, focus on the Powerpoint notes and hang on to the lectern for dear life. The audience wants to connect with you. Get our from behind the lectern. The movement will help release your tension and will draw the audience into the presentation.

This is another area where your preparation comes into play. Set aside your materials and communicate a bigger story than data or facts can provide.

Don’t stare at your notes or the back wall. Connect to your audience as individuals. Look into peoples’ eyes as you speak. Make your presentation personal. Eye contact can help you relax and judge audience reaction to your presentation.

See Your Success

Don’t focus on what could go wrong. Replace that image with one of you successfully delivering your presentation. If you are using props, handouts and technology, prepare a back-up plan for anything that could go wrong.

  • Know how you will proceed if the projector breaks down.
  • Decide how you’ll interacted with the audience if they seem to be losing attention.
  • Be prepared to answer tough questions after your presentation.

Visualize a successful outcome. It is not the mistake the audience will remember, but the way you handled it.

Experience, Experience, Experience

An important factor to success as a public speaker is to speak. You can’t buy confidence on eBay. Confidence comes with experience. Get out there and speak. Building successes will lead to new public speaking challenges. You’ll be amazed at the reaction of others to your ideas, authority and leadership, when you begin speaking in public.

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{ 4 comments }

John Vespasian November 2, 2013 at 1:20 pm

From my point of view, the key factor for overcoming the fear of public speaking has not been mentioned in the article. You need to have something to say, something that is important to you. You need to have a message that you want to deliver. If you are driven to tell your story, all the rest becomes secondary. An interesting article about the technicalities of public speaking.

ianmckenzie November 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

John, that can be an important factor to overcoming fear in speaking. However, there are time when speakers don’t necessarily have the luxury of delivering a message they want to deliver.

For example, if my employer brings out a new policy that I don’t agree with, but my boss makes it my job to communicate it clearly to staff, I may have to give a speech that is neither important to me, or a message a want to deliver. The expectation is still, I’m going to do it well. And I will put my best public-speaking practices to work to deliver the message a clearly and confidently as possible.

Christine LeBlanc November 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Nice posting Ian. It is so difficult to master public speaking, but it can be done. The tips you suggest are key. Thank you!

Neil November 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Really good article – I think you’re last point “Experience Experience Experience” is the key to public speaking success.

This helps change the negative belief system people tend to create and builds confidence on past experience.

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