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10 Tips on How to Overcome The Fear of Public Speaking
The Nature Of The Beast
I confess to getting a little wild around the eyes when casually informed that I have the "signal honor" of presenting a new, irreducibly complicated presentation to a multitude of grim-faced literary associates. After all, and there's no way around it, you're going to be sized-up, challenged, judged and occasionally even heckled.
We're off to a running start then, delving straight into the core of a horrifying insecurity that can jeopardize the ligaments in our knees and ferment waves of uncontrollable nausea. We live in fear of it, the fear of the fear, that materialization of our worst case scenario. We fear humiliation, loss of control, memory lapses, perhaps even the imperfect monotone or pitch of our own voices.
That's one way of looking at it, but it isn't the only one -- and it certainly shouldn't be the one we choose to adopt. The purpose of this article is simply to share tips that I have used, and continue to use to turn my frequent public speaking adventures from a crippling and egotistically scarring odyssey into a mildly discomforting nervousness that fuels me rather than brings me down.
10. Break The Ice
As public speakers we subconsciously feed on the audience's mood, but often we ignore that we are largely in control of how an audience responds to us. By breaking the ice we are shifting the mood to familiar waters, that of a social gathering rather than a highly figurative execution. The act of introducing a sprinkling humor, self-irony or creativity relaxes the audience, and consequently us.
This doesn't necessarily mean polishing our stand-up comedian skills, it can as subtle and fleeting as a humorous bullet point or witty introduction (I will give you a personal example in the next step). If introducing humor is something you are fundamentally uncomfortable with, there are other ways of relaxing an audience, but more of that later on in the article!
Introducing Thooghun, a self-styled relationship expert, part time dumper and full time dumpee.
9. Set The Stage
One way I like to relax an audience and take the initial judgmental stress out of the room is by having a friend introduce me in an unorthodox way. Breaking the mold with humor, before I have even begun, means that the audience is able to relax before I have uttered a single word. After all, it's hard to laugh at someone who is willing to laugh at themselves.
The text capsule floating to the right would be an example of something I might use if I were speaking at a convention on relationships. I admit that I tend to be fairly aggressive with humor, but even an atom of mirth will work wonders on the audience.
8. Become Conscious Of Your Body Language
At any public speaking event there are two distinct conversations taking place between the audience and the speaker. Body language is the other one.
The contrast between asserting valid points in a presentation, and displaying a closed posture can lead to lack of trust and negative rapport. Conversely, even a poorly structured argument can seem convincing if it is accompanied by open and convincing body language.
It is natural for us to want to shrivel-up and hide in the corner due to a bout of anxiety, but make sure you maintain a pose -- even if it is entirely artificial.
7. Master And Commander
Don't approach the experience passively. Most people (myself included) often feel captive of the experience rather than actively making it work for us.
What helps me greatly is to do what it takes to make the experience as comfortable and familiar as I can for myself. Every little bit helps.
- Stroll around the audience before the presentation and exchange pleasantries. It will lessen the fear of the unknown.
- If you are shy, find something to partially hide behind when you talk.
- If you don't like being in the center stage move your position off-center.
- Toggle with the microphone settings so you don't have to shout.
- And on, the list is virtually endless.
While these points seem irrelevant, they can lead to remarkable changes in stage confidence. Sometimes just the act of taking the reins of the situation itself will help you mentally conquer your inner introvert.
6. Practice With A Friend
Preferably one that has a tendency to be brutally honest and not, as most of mine do, give you a thumbs up regardless of how poor your presentation is (bless their kind souls).
Disregard the impulse to stop midway through a practice run and exclaim, "yea, yea ok. I've got this." and take your time. When it comes to public speaking practice makes perfect. It will drastically reduce the frequency of those dreaded mind-blanks occuring simply because you are capable of going on auto-pilot long enough to regain your objectivity.
5. Drown Your Inner Perfectionist
Consider public speaking the equivalent of writing the first draft of a novel, just keep going. Mental lapses, mispronunciation and slip-ups of every kind are very much forgivable, even by the most lugubrious of audiences. In almost all cases your own self-judgement is your worst enemy. Nobody is ever going to judge you as harshly as you are likely to judge your own performance.
Focus on your overall points and don't stress the texture of your message, thereby leaving enough creative room in your brain to adapt to any situation. Free your mind, as they say, and your posterior will follow.
Perhaps adding a bullet point about preparation may strike you as redundant. Yes, we know, I can hear you say. And you do. Nevertheless, preparation is not only the act of knowing your subject matter intimately, it is also a way of dealing with uncertainty.
- What if the projector dies?
- What if the lights go out?
- What if you lose your voice?
- How are you going to handle difficult questions?
Preparation extends beyond merely knowing the subject matter. As a rule of thumb, focus less on being able to detail and expand upon bullet-points on a screen and far more on leading the discussion. Bullet points should serve to summarize your argument, not provide you with a lead. Are you able to deliver the presentation without any peripheral tools (including notes)? If the answer is an honest no, then do what you can to remedy the situation (within reason).
Stress Relief Ideas
I have also written an article on how to naturally reduce stress. If you're interested in finding some easy ways to do something about the jitters, without resorting to wine or OTC medications, be sure to give the article a whirl.
3. Take A Chill Pill (Optional)
If there's no realistic way around your fear in the short-term, there are ways to relieve anxiety which are occasionally frowned upon, but which I subjectively find may help. Please note; I am not a psychologist, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.
- A glass of wine.
- A familiar habit.
- A personal ritual.
- Systemic relaxation.
- In short, anything which you know can calm your nervous system.
I'm aware this is a controversial topic, and yet, I know for a fact that a single glass of wine aids me greatly. Make of it what you will.
2. Start Well
If you're looking for something to give you the edge, to make your presentation more than just done. Consider crafting a strong beginning to your presentation. As we know, first impressions tend to last, the first few minutes of your ordeal can set the tone for the entire presentation.
Not only will starting well help break the ice with the audience, it will also provide you with confidence, raising the bar on the rest of your performance.
A good way to make a presentation strong is by adding an element of interactivity, humor or by appearing relaxed and confident. Your audience will respond in kind.
1. Relativize The Experience
At the end of the day, as traumatic as public speaking appears to be (and statistics suggest the fear of public speaking is right up there with the fear of flying in terms of how common it is), remember that whether you want it to or not it will end, and life will go on. Nobody assumes you're going to cruise through it, and you will have garnered respect for having stepped up and taken the challenge.
Ironically, I find that one of the best mind-sets to frame when speaking in public is to not consider myself a public speaker. I tend to try and be myself, and shrug off the veil of judgement. As it is with other crafts such as literature, much like a writer finding his "voice", a public speaker will benefit greatly from finding him or herself on the stage. There is nothing to learn, you will find that your ability is innate, because it is something you do all the time with friends, family and acquaintances. The only difference is the context. If we can overcome the stage, the bright lights, the audience and the echo of our own voice, we have overcome the fear of public speaking, and we can do this by simply ignoring them entirely.
Social Anxiety - A Disclaimer
The fear of public speaking (also known as Glossophobia) stems from afight-or-flight response provoked by our nervous system when confronted with a perceived threat. The panic escalates because we are neither fighting the source of concern, nor are we able to run from it. This is normal, and in a way a sign that our bodies are working properly, provided it is temporary.
The only disclaimer that I offer readers, is that we make a distinction between the generalized and common symptoms that the majority of us feel, albeit in varying degrees, when having to speak publicly, and a social anxiety disorder. It would be remiss of me to attempt to double as a psychologist, which I am not. I urge readers who know that their fear of speaking is severe to consult someone better able to understand the workings of the brain than I. I claim only that these tips helped me, and nothing more.