[Video: How Public Speaking Will Change Your Life – Why It’s Important to Overcome This Common Fear from TEDxTalks]
We’ve all been there. Sweaty palms and flushed cheeks. Stuttering over our words. We forgot about a class presentation. We lost track of time and arrived late. We didn’t prepare well enough. We didn’t time ourselves when practicing and ran out of things to say. We feel like a fool, and our instinct is to crawl back into bed and forget about this humiliating moment.
How Common is Public Speaking Anxiety?
Delivering a subpar speech can be embarrassing, but it happens to many of us. Remember that if you do mess up, most people will not remember your speech in years to come. In class, your peers are usually too nervous about giving their own presentation to notice the mistakes you make. Many people fear public speaking. If you conduct a search online, you’ll find articles proclaiming that people fear public speaking even more than death. Normal public speaking fear becomes a phobia when you spend a large amount of time worrying about giving a speech, avoiding giving a speech, or experience unbearable anxiety when giving a speech. A phobia of public speaking is called glossophobia. In“Fright at the Improv: The Fear of Public Speaking as a Social Phobia,” Patrick J. Bishop discusses how “the fear of public speaking has long been ranked as the number one fear of Americans.” An article called “Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death?” mentioned a study done where 65.9% of women and 57.2% of men reported that they fear public speaking.
A lot of us tend to think of public speaking as the person delivering a call to action to an impassioned political group or the animated person giving a Ted Talk. We compare ourselves to speakers who have been honing their skills for years. Not all speeches have to move an audience to tears or make them double over with laughter. At its basic level, a speech is simply speaking to an audience about something. The audience could range from one person to thousands, but the purpose of the speech remains the same: to deliver information. One way to combat your feelings of speech anxiety is to remember that if your speech delivers a message, then you’ve succeeded. Even without all the bells and whistles of jokes, visual aids, music, and the like.
19 Techniques the Pros Use to Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety
1. It’s Not About You, It’s About Your Material
One thing that helps artists succeed is understanding that the critics are criticizing their art, not them as a human being. The distinction is important. As a public speaker, you are delivering a message. Separate yourself from your speech. Remember that the audience is here for the message, not for you. It can seem harsh, but it takes the pressure off knowing that the message is the important part.
2. Choose a Topic You Are Interested In
What are you passionate about? What do you find yourself reading about? What types of movies are you interested in? Pick a topic that you care about and try to make your audience care about it, too. In Jeffrey Hannan’s book, “Authentic Communication: Public Speaking For Everyone”, he advises public speakers to “begin with story… Think about ways to ensure that your beginning, middle, and the end will keep your audience interested; use your voice, your facial expressions, and your body.”
3. Preparation and Practice Equal Less Anxiety
Be prepared. Practice in front of a mirror. Do a dry run with friends and family. Record yourself so that you know how long your speech should last. Consider filming yourself and writing down some things you noticed that you could improve. Don’t eat a greasy meal before the speech and bring a bottle of water. Do breathing exercises beforehand and consider stretching to relieve anxiety. Relax your shoulders and jaw. Little habits like this can make delivering a speech much easier.
4. Visualize Your Success
What does successful public speaking look like to you? What do you hope to accomplish? Work backwards from your vision, considering the steps you can take to get there. Does your speech include powerful visual aids? Pauses for emphasis after an intense anecdote? Work those tactics into your speech little by little until your vision becomes a reality.
5. Know Your Material
The best way to make a fool out of yourself is to not know the material presented in your speech. We’ve all seen the student get up to do their presentation at the end of the semester who didn’t seem to do any of the reading. Knowing your material is more than memorizing talk points. Knowing your material is about understanding the message behind your words. What are the keys points of your speech? What is the most important part? Why is this speech important? Hone in on why your speech matters and infuse your words with that meaning.
6. Familiarize Yourself with the Venue
If you’ve never been to the venue before, consider taking a trip there beforehand. Getting lost or arriving late can have a snowball effect. First, one thing goes wrong, and you become frazzled. The anxiety can build until it throws your entire speech off course. Don’t let mundane details like the time and location of the speech jeopardize your message.
7. Don’t Lose Your Audience, Stay On Track
Taking a brief pause while speaking is a good way to stay on track. If you get lost in an anecdotal story, pausing to take a deep breath and recenter yourself can remind you to stick to your outline. Having a powerpoint with visual aids can hold your audience’s interest, as well as serve as a visual reminder for the next point you need to make. Anecdotes are great to keep the audience interested but don’t overdo it. Keep the stories short and relevant, circling back to your point before moving on to the next topic.
8. Manage Your Time
Writing the speech can cause a lot of stress before you even have to deliver it in front of an audience. Break it down into small steps to lessen the anxiety. Make a list of things that need to be done by a certain date to stay on track. Breaking the project down into bite-size steps lessens feelings of being overwhelmed. Moreover, if you’re already nervous about giving a speech, being late will make those feelings even worse. Set an alarm (or a few). Leave early so that you can leisurely walk into the room where you’ll be delivering your speech rather than running in flustered and giving your audience a bad first impression.
9. Don’t Use a Script
Keep a few note cards on hand or show a powerpoint with key points and pictures. It can be a great way to stay on track. However, do not simply read off the powerpoint or the notecards. When we’re experiencing public speaking fear, there can be a tendency to freeze up and read information instead of delivering a speech. Know your speech so well that you can deliver it even if you get nervous, pausing for anecdotes or to make emphasis. Use the note cards only as a backup if you have a Brain Freeze. By doing this, you allow your personality to come through because you’re not reading out the information robotically.
10. Study Professionals You Look Up To
Many of us look at the professionals and passively assume they popped out of the womb with the ability to deliver excellent speeches. However, public speaking is a skill that is learned. Remember when you didn’t know how to ride a bike? Now you push the pedals and change gears without thinking. Learning something can be scary at first. All the directions may feel overwhelming, but eventually, if you do it enough, giving speeches can become easy. If you’d like to get more hands-on learning, consider becoming a member of the National Speaker’s Association, the most valuable speaker’s organization since 1973.
11. Get Support
The fear of public speaking is normal. Sometimes, this fear can take over someone’s life and derail their career. If your fear is having a significant impact on your life, consider going to therapy or looking for a support group. Some therapists specialize in public speaking anxiety. There are many options for support online and in person. Some doctor offices even offer discounted services based on income.Toastmasters International is an organization that can help you “practice public speaking, improve your communication and build leadership skills.” There are clubs and events offered around the world. You can even start your own club if there’s not one near you.
12. Focus On Your Material, Not Your Audience
Focus on the message, not the reactions of the audience. If you notice a member of the audience checking their phone, don’t hone in on it. Don’t let yourself get angry. There is a multitude of reasons why someone could be checking their phone, ranging from an emergency to anxiety. Pull away from analyzing the actions of the audience and focus on your next point, diving into the topic with enthusiasm.
13. Make Eye Contact
Look up! Making eye contact can be difficult for a lot of us. Reading off of a paper or a PowerPoint makes it easy to avert the eyes of the audience and pretend that you’re giving the speech in your bedroom. It’s important to make that connection with members of the audience, though. Build that connection by looking out into the audience and making eye contact with a few people. It can be easier if you’re asking the audience a question because it feels like there is a distinct purpose for making that eye contact.
14. Speak Slowly and Use Pauses
It is better to go slower rather than faster. When we are anxious, we tend to want to rush through an activity. Essentially, we want to get it over with. The problem is that speaking faster makes it harder to breathe. Loss of oxygen can make us feel dizzy. Dizziness can make your anxiety worse because now you are feeling nervous and lightheaded. Furthermore, speaking too fast can confuse the audience. Pausing gives the audience time to catch up while giving you the time to take a breath and glance at your outline.
15. Keep It Simple
Remember that we’ve all done public speaking before. Even if you didn’t consider telling your friends that hilarious story public speaking, it was. From class presentations to relaying a funny story at the dinner table, most of us have delivered a public speech in some shape or form. The speech doesn’t have to be perfect or extra complicated. It just needs to deliver a message to fulfill its purpose. Remembering that you’ve delivered a speech before and survived can help lessen your fear.
16. Don’t Expect Perfectionism
Most people are too busy worrying about themselves to nitpick others. The ones who might take the time to bash you are forgetting that failure is a necessary part of learning. Many of us have had moments of embarrassment in our lives. We replay the moments, internally cringing, hoping no one remembers. The good news is that most people don’t, and the ones who do don’t matter. If you do deliver a subpar speech, think of it as a stepping stone. A rite of passage. You must deliver the subpar speeches in order to deliver the good ones and then the great ones. Learning is a process. Be kind to yourself.
17. Prepare for the Worst-Case Scenario
Prepare for the worst and understand that you will survive if it does happen. A few hecklers may embarrass you, but they won’t hurt you physically. Preparing for the worst-case scenario is about more than a terrible audience, though. What if your throat gets dry? What if you need to use the restroom? Create a list of things that you need to do and complete it in order to deliver your best speech. Get into the habit of using this list every time you give a speech, and it will become second-nature.
18. Moments of Silence Are Okay
If you’re recovering from a Brain Freeze, remember that brief pauses are okay. For example, it can give the audience time to catch up if they are taking notes. If a brief silence stretches longer than a few seconds, communicate that with your audience. We’ve all had a Brain Freeze at one time or another. Chuckling and saying, “Oh gosh, give me just a second. I’ve got a Brain Freeze!” will let your audience know what’s going on.
19. Know that the Audience Wants You to Succeed
Most people don’t enjoy watching a speaker fumble through a speech. It can make the audience uncomfortable. The people listening to your speech want you to succeed. Your embarrassing moment might even be beneficial. A study at Stanford University found that people find those who embarrass themselves to be more trustworthy and likable. Your embarrassing moment may show the audience that you are just like them. This creates a connection and can make your speech more powerful and memorable.