The crowd falls silent as you walk out to the podium, and with hundreds of eyes fixed on you, you try to speak, only to realize you can’t remember a single word of your speech! This is the nightmare scenario so many of us play in our heads in the hours before we know we’ll need to speak in front of a crowd. The fear of public speaking, glossophobia, is one of the most common phobias, and many people avoid public speaking in order to escape their anxiety. But dodging the microphone or avoiding speaking in front of others can have career consequences that are worse than that temporary feeling of dread.
An average person ranks the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death. The truth is, this fear could be hurting your professional and personal life. Unless you’re a gregarious extrovert, you feel nervous, your palms sweat, and your stomach ties itself into knots before speaking to a group or getting up in front of the audience.
Public speaking is a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership, draw positive attention to yourself, and share your point of view. Avoiding public speaking invitations, simply because you’re afraid, is doing yourself a disservice that could stifle your career growth. You can overcome your fear of public speaking by approaching it with the right attitude and by calling on a few helpful tips and tricks.
Here are eight of the best tricks for keeping your fear of public speaking under control:
1) Focus on Them, Not You: Public speaking anxiety often centers around feelings of insecurity about how you look and sound. By focusing on what the audience is getting out of your speech, you can take your mind off those worries about being judged. Remember that you’re speaking in front of a crowd to communicate something important. Are they absorbing your message? Are they connected? The more energy you put into conveying your main point, the less you’ll have available for self-criticism.
2) Speak from the Heart: Public speaking can feel awkward because we may think we have to pretend to be someone else – someone smarter – more knowledgeable. Instead of playing a role, just be sincere. Use examples you know well, relate to, and about which you feel strongly. The audience will pick up on your passion for the subject. When you speak in front of a crowd about your own perspective, you’re more likely to remember your speech, remain calm, and be convincing and compelling.
3) Breathe: It may seem obvious, but breathing properly is a proven technique for overcoming anxiety. Being deliberate about your breathing during a public speaking engagement can have multiple benefits. It reminds you to stay in the moment and get out of your head, and it slows you down, which prevents rushing through your speech and allows you to build confidence as you go. Breathing deeply also helps you control the sound of your voice, and it has a calming effect that prevents nerves from creeping up on you.
4) Practice, Practice, Practice: The better rehearsed you are, the more confident you’ll feel on stage, helping mitigate any fear of public speaking. Focus on your delivery more than specific words, and practice reading your presentation aloud. If possible, perform your speech in front of an audience, even if it’s just a friend or loved one. If you plan to use cue cards or a PowerPoint, practice with those as well, and make sure you’ve designed your cheat sheets in ways that are simple and easy to read. Cue cards with huge blocks of text can be confusing. Instead, use clean bullet points, and make sure the cards are numbered so you don’t mix up the order of your presentation. Record yourself via audio or video recorder and review your presentation as though you were an audience member. You’d be surprised how much changing your perspective can help you improve your public speaking performance.
5) Take Pauses: When you’re nervous, it’s tempting to rush through your presentation, but taking occasional pauses can help to calm your nerves and improve your delivery. Pauses create a break in your speech, which gives the audience a chance to react and absorb your message. Pauses help to add emphasis and can force you to get back into the moment rather than obsessing about the next line you have to recite.
6) Embrace Your Nerves: Don’t judge yourself for being nervous. Your anxiousness about public speaking is a sign that you care about doing well and you’re invested. Studies have shown that trying to stop yourself from being nervous is a losing battle. Instead, transform your nerves into another feeling: excitement. Use your nerves as a way of bringing energy to your presentation as you speak in front of a crowd.
7) Start with a Story: When it comes to public speaking, what people will remember most is how you start and how you finish. Begin with a story, joke, or memory to draw the audience into your presentation right away. This also helps you put their focus on your message rather than your performance as a speaker.
8) Don’t Memorize Every Word: It’s tempting to rehearse to the point that you know every single word, pause, and inflection by heart. This could backfire big-time if you happen to miss a word, completely throwing you off for the rest of your presentation. Instead, memorize the beats, the main points you need to make, and instead of focusing on the exact delivery, put energy into staying in the moment and connecting with your audience.
Public speaking doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Taking center stage to speak to a crowd is an exciting opportunity to share your voice and demonstrate your ability to motivate and inspire. While your instincts might tell you to get through it as fast as you can and to try not to think about what you’re doing, that approach will almost guarantee a poor performance. As daunting as it may seem, try to enjoy the moment. Remind yourself of the potential benefits of doing a good job, and remember that the people in the audience aren’t there because they want to see you fail. They are there to learn something and to hear what you have to say. Prepare yourself well and your ability to capture the crowd may surprise you.
Harness your nervous energy and use it to be the dynamic, confident, and compelling speaker you were in the shower or in front of the mirror. You’ve been asked to speak because you have something important to say. Now, get out of your own way and share that message!