At some point in all of our lives, we’ve had to give some sort of speech, presentation or talk to a group of people. For some people, this can be one of the most terrifying things they will ever have to do. In fact, there’s an interesting statistic that actually claims that public speaking is the number one fear in North America! I remember the treacherous junior high days of having to give a presentation in front of the class – my anxiety was so bad that I would try to come up with excuses to stay home sick or to not give my presentation. Fast forward a decade and a half: now I actually enjoy speaking in front of others!
It wasn’t an overnight process, of course. I had to go through a variety of situations to overcome my fear and I learned several helpful tips along the way. As I continued to build my confidence in my public speaking abilities, I eventually found that one day I wasn’t the person hiding in the back of the room – I was the person waving my hand and volunteering to go first. Keep in mind that the ability to speak in front of others (and well) will help you in so many ways. Whether you’re looking to give a killer presentation at the office to impress your boss or you want to give your best friend the toast of a lifetime at her wedding, here are some tips to help you decrease your fear of public speaking.
Practice, practice, practice. This piece of advice can be applied to every single aspect of your life, whether it’s public speaking, becoming a better athlete, artist, etc. A common fear that many share when it comes to giving a presentation, talk or debate is not knowing their stuff, which can then result in embarrassment. Research your topic, take notes, learn a little extra and make notecards. Don’t write out your speech in its entirety and just read to your audience but write down key points in case you forget something. Try reading in front of your mirror so you can see your facial expressions.
Use a test audience. Test your speech out on a group of friends or family members – these are the people you are the most comfortable around and who will be able to give you feedback on areas you could improve in. You can also try video recording yourself speaking and then playing it back to watch yourself. This is what many athletes do when they want to assess their performance. You can also just talk to your stuffed animals and have a fake audience if that is your preference.
Volunteer to go first. This may sound super scary but this is my tried and true method. Going first offers so many benefits. For one, everyone goes easy on you because you were brave enough to volunteer. Then you won’t be comparing yourself or getting more nervous if the presentations before you were amazing and you know that you can’t live up to the same standards. Plus, then you can relax afterwards, knowing that the hardest part is over.
Relax. Practice some deep breathing exercises or meditate. Figure out a way to maintain and achieve your inner calm. Nerves are always at their highest during the initial first five minutes in a new environment or unfamiliar situation, so once you acclimatize to your environment/setting, you will noticeably feel and appear more relaxed.
Get creative. A lot of people fear that their topic or presentation will bore their audience, which leads to that fear of speaking. Don’t bore your audience! Figure out how to make your topic look more interesting, whether it’s creating some kind of visual tool, like a Power Point presentation, poster board or demonstration, or injecting some humor into your speech with a joke or interesting story. Once you get a positive reaction from your audience, it’s a lot easier to keep on talking.
Look the part. On the day of your big talk, make sure you look and feel good. Whether it’s going to the gym first thing in the morning, blow-drying your hair and doing your makeup, or ironing your outfit, you’ll feel at your best when you look your best and others will naturally pay attention to you and listen to you more. If a rocket scientist gave a presentation in sweatpants, it wouldn’t matter how many degrees he or she has or how many books he or she has published. If you don’t look the part, you will not command the respect you deserve.
Worst-case scenario. In truth, what’s the worst that could happen? Keep in mind that this presentation is just a small speck in a series of life events. Whether it goes well or so-so, is it going to matter a year from now? Is it going to affect who you are as a person? View each experience as a learning opportunity that makes you better with time, and just realize that the more presentations you do, the better you will get.