You are currently viewing How can you overcome the fear of public speaking?

How can you overcome the fear of public speaking?

Most people (take that as Almost All People) experience nerves and anxiety when they are placed in a position where they are required to make a speech or give a presentation. If the idea of delivering a presentation leaves you feeling uneasy, you are not alone.  In fact, research indicates that one in five people experience severe anxiety just thinking about it.

The good news is that you can actually enjoy making a presentation.  That’s doesn’t necessarily mean you will not feel the nerves.  In fact, it is that nervous energy that enhances your performance.  Never be afraid of feeling nervous.  It simply demonstrates that you are human and that you want to engage with your audience.  That applies whether you are presenting to a crowd, or communicating one-to-one.

Here are some tips to help you feel easier when you make a speech or presentation:

Remember to breathe

When you’re nervous, your heart rate speeds up and you may find yourself breaking out in a sweat!  That’s a natural bodily reaction and it can actually help you to build up the energy to perform at your best.

It’s only when your nervousness gets out of control that there is cause for concern. To help control this natural bodily reaction, take a few minutes before delivering your speech to close your eyes and do some deep breathing. Calm your body before placing yourself in front of your audience.

Take a deep breath and send yourself a positive message.

Enjoy your nerves

Even the most seasoned public speaker can feel nervous on stage. It simply means you are keen to do well – it makes you human. The harder you try to hide your nerves, the hard it can become.  That’s why it’s important to practice your presentation in advance.  Whatever you do, don’t try to convince yourself that words will come tripping off the tongue, once you stand up in front of your audience.  They rarely do, and, when they do you can generally regret those things you say on the spur of the moment.

Relax your body

Drop your shoulders. Give your hands a shake to release the tension. Stand erect.  Stretch up from the waist and down from the waist.  Feel as if there is a string pulling your body upward.  Lean forward very slightly, leaning on the balls of your feet.  Trust me doing this simple thing (learning on the balls of the feet) will give you a sense of control and personal empowerment.

Send yourself a positive message

Focus on the positive.   Unless you are presenting an oral assessment at school, or you belong to a speaking club, no one ever really asks you to make a speech just for the sake of it.  People ask you to make a presentation because there is something in it for them.  In other words, they want to hear from you: either they are celebrating with you; or they want to know what you know, or what you think.  In other words, your audience is there because you have something to say that they want to hear.

Send yourself a positive affirmation:  “I [Sarah] am here to make this speech/presentation because I know lots about …….. . I am presenting my speech with confidence, knowing that I have something to say that others want me to share.”

Notice we are talking in the present tense.  (Not the future). We’re talking about the here and now.

Have a few notes

We don’t speak in the same way as we write, so don’t be tempted to write out your speech as you would as write an essay.  If you write your speech word-for-word it always sounds like you’re reading an essay.  if you’ve ever watched a speaker read from direct from their notes the entire time they are on stage, you will know that this isn’t effective.

Keep your notes in point form and if you think it will help to illustrate your points, consider using some visual aids.  (Not death by PowerPoint).  Keep your notes, even your audio / visuals minimalistic.

Incorporate visual prompts and props

A few well used prompts, including of course your PowerPoint presentation, can be great memory prompts and, of course, they add visual interest. Get creative.  Actions such as pouring a half glass of water to emphasize the effect of “living with your glass half-full, or pulling out a glove puppet, with which you converse, are great attention grabbers.  Think creatively! Visual props also give you something to do with your hands and focus your audience.

Become comfortable with “the pause”

Using filler words such as “uh” or “um” are typically used as a way to say something, anything, while you’re thinking of your next point. A few filler words, now are again, are natural enough but too many of them creates distractions.  You’ll reduce the number of filler words if you practice your presentation. As you rehearse, record yourself and look for opportunities to replace your regular “uh”, ‘um” and other distracting fillers, with the pause.

The pause allows your audience to reflect on what you have just said and it prepares them for what you will say next.  It creates atmosphere, mood and suspense so enjoy the occasional well-timed silence. A pause can even be used to help strengthen a point, letting it sit with the audience before you move on to the next topic or thought. Become more comfortable with this pause and you will become a better public speaker.

Use gesture to best advantage

Well placed gestures helps you to emphasis a point. However, they can also be a distracting mannerism if they are over-used. If you have ever talked to someone who is all worked up and noticed that their hands are flailing wildly, you’ll know how distracting it can be.  Using gesture is a great way to emphasise certain points, just use them to best effect rather than waving your hands about without purpose.

Move around a little

People often pace when they’re nervous and sometimes they sway or transfer their weight from one foot to the other.  This can be quite distracting for your audience. As with hand gestures, a little bit of movement is okay, particularly if its purposeful.  Too much though, is distracting.  Don’t be afraid to get out from behind the podium as it often blocks you off from your audience.  If you feel confident enough, move away from the podium so as to eliminate the barrier it creates with your listeners.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, I know I’ve said this earlier, but truly, the secret of a well-polished presentation or speech is in the rehearsal.

Mark Twain was heard to say: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Practice in front of your mirror, or ask a “critical but supportive colleague” to critique your delivery.  It’s generally a good idea to record yourself in rehearsal so that you can independently review your presentation and make changes to your presentation based on your own critique.

Each time you speak in front of a group, you will increase your confidence, so take every opportunity and invitation extended to you to build on your experience.

Summing up

If you are feeling anxious about speaking in public, you can feel assured that you are not alone. The good news is that public speaking is a learned skill.   With practice and experience you will deliver an amazing speech. Approach your presentation after some rehearsal; taking the time to practice is a sign that you respect yourself and you respect your audience.  Bite the bullet by taking the opportunity to speak whenever it is offered.  Remember practice makes perfect.

Need some help to write your speech, overcome your anxiety or deliver your speech with polish?

Whether you are preparing to make a special occasion speech, or preparing to make a business presentation.  We are delighted to help.

Liz Paine
The Occasional Speaker
Phone: 0400 778807