We’d all like to be fearless public speakers, standing up at that company meeting, breaking the ice with a funny story, having the audience captivated by our story, answering questions with ease before finishing to hearty applause.
But with 75% of us fearing public speaking, the reality is less than perfect. Often our fears take over and we experience sweaty palms, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and a red glow that starts midway up your chest and creeps up our neck. We feel fearful of stumbling, drawing a blank, unable to speak or losing our audience and it is this fear that can prevent us from communicating ideas or presenting in various forums - which could actually be good for our careers.
We can all communicate, speak and share ideas so that’s not the problem. It is our own thoughts and fears that overwhelm us when an audience grows or is unfamiliar.
The good news is that you don’t have to overcome your fear in order to be a good public speaker, instead it is about having less fear – think of it as being fear-less.
Here are 10 tips to help you be a fearless public speaker
Define the fear
The very first step in overcoming the fear of public speaking is to define it. Is it the fear of failure, the fear of humiliation, the fear of being judged or being seen as less than perfect or is it all of the above? By identifying the fear, there is a better chance of overcoming it.
What would it feel like to be unafraid of public speaking? What would it mean for you? What opportunities would that open – how would you feel? Get excited about the possibilities overcoming the fear would present.
Do you want to speak at TED X or be able to do a company pitch or update? We have to see it before we can believe it but knowing the end goal helps to start small steps towards it.
Imagine the worst
What would you do if you fell up the stairs? If you lose your words or lose the audience? Make a plan! If you fall, what will you say? If you lose your words, what notes will you have in your back pocket? If you lose the audience, what anecdote can you try to pull them back in? Usually having a plan is enough to prevent the fear from taking over.
Know your body
What happens when you are nervous? Athletes warm up for events, singers practise their scales and great public speakers often have small routines to help them stay calm prior to kicking off their presentations. Running cool water over wrists, listening to music, lying with legs up a wall five minutes prior, meditations, visualisations, deep breathing, drinking cool water can all help to relax the nervous system to help you start from a very calm base.
Some of the most experienced public speakers, simply start by taking a confident pose, a deep mindful breath, pull their shoulders back and down so they are fully grounded and then say their first words. This is a technique designed to centre their bodies in preparation to speak.
Yep, as small as the bathroom mirror. Every week assign yourself a topic and practice that topic in the bathroom mirror. Give yourself the task of presenting an introduction, main point and conclusion. This is not about preparing well or being perfect; it is about the sensation of speaking.
Extend the circle
After you’ve found comfort in the mirror, let your family or friends know you are practising your speaking. Get them to throw you a topic to which you need to respond on the spot with an introduction, main point and conclusion. Again, this is not about developing formal speeches but about the sensation of speaking. Let them know you are only seeking positive feedback at this stage as we want to see your confidence soar.
Create small opportunities, often
Start to offer opinions and ideas in larger groups at work, phrase it as the main point, introduction and conclusion just like you did in your safe environment. Don’t judge your performance, simply celebrate your efforts at stepping out of your comfort zone.
Create formal opportunities
When ready, share with your supervisor or colleagues that you are trying to get more confident with your speaking and ask for their support. Maybe offer to host a team meeting, do a performance update or volunteer to speak at another team meeting about your department. Choose topics you are familiar with and can shine. Celebrate each one as you tick it off!
At this point, keep those opportunities coming. The more you expose yourself to speaking, the more natural it will become, the more your confidence will grow, and the fear will subside.
The wonderful thing about public speaking is that the audience always wants you to win. They are there to gain from your knowledge and expertise, so it is the content that is more important than the delivery. You know your topic, you can communicate, you are enough.
When you are ready, you will start to self-evaluate the delivery and have the confidence to experiment with interesting openings, storytelling and thought-provoking finales that will see you as the star speaker you once idolised.
As you continue to build those awesome speaking skills, Trojan is here to support you in your recruitment needs. As the experts in labour hire, permanent recruitment and contract staff, we always have our fingers on the pulse of hiring trends and can help you build the perfect team.
Graham D. Bodie (2010) A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety, Communication Education, 59:1, 70-105, DOI: 10.1080/03634520903443849