Fear of Public Speaking? 8 Ways to Ease Your Mind Before Sharing Your Story
Feb 20, 2019
Public speaking has often been singled out as people’s #1 fear. I, for one, completely understand that fear! But given my job, I’ve had to face those fears and present in front of audiences large and small. I’ve also had to coach people on how to conquer their fears so that their stories could be heard.
Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way on how to calm the jitters and be confident when presenting to an audience of 10, 100 or 1000.
Before You Present
- Prepare your story. A story that is organized, incorporates messages, and leaves the audience with a call to action will help you start off on the right foot. You want to be engaging and take the audience on a journey. Preparing your story can mean different things to different people. I like to write out what I’m presenting word for word. Other people choose to write outlines. And still others write simple talking points. There’s no right way or wrong way – just figure out what works best for you.
- Practice, practice, practice! The more you practice and rehearse, the better you will be prepared. I know that sounds trite, but it really does make a difference. Read your story aloud if it’s written out. Get comfortable with your words and speaking them, especially the emotional parts of your talk. You may be able to write the emotional stuff and read these statements to yourself – but speaking these sentiments aloud can be tougher than you’re expecting. As you hear yourself speak, adjust the content so it flows. Work at sounding natural. Practice your tone and how you project. Also, practice standing up if that’s how you’ll be presenting. Figure out how to move and what to do with your body. For example, I’m a hand talker – so I like to hold a microphone to keep my hands occupied.
“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”― Zig Ziglar
- Memorize the beginning and the end. I don’t recommend memorizing your entire story – it tends to make you more nervous trying to remember exactly what to say. And I also don’t suggest reading your story from a paper or a screen unless you really need to. But I do think it’s helpful to know exactly how you’re going to start and exactly how you want to end. Start with a hook to grab the audience immediately – something that brings energy to yourself and your audience. End with something that will inspire your listeners to take action. And then memorize those sentences. If you don’t know how you’re going to start, nerves will get the best of you and you’ll start off stumbling. And if you don't know how you're going to end, you'll find yourself rambling on and on...
Day of Your Presentation
- Get in tune with your body. First, slow down your words. People tend to get nervous and speed up as they speak. Think about slowing down so that people can hear your words, your voice. Breathe and pause. This provides emphasis at points throughout your story, as well as gives the audience a chance to connect with your words and you. And don’t forget to make eye contact. Find the people who are looking at you with a friendly face. I always look for the people nodding “yes” as I'm talking, looking visibly engaged. Don’t focus on the people who make you uncomfortable. The one with the grimace or the person texting. Find the people in the audience who are supporting you and have a conversation with them.
- Speak from the heart. This is your story – your truth. Remember who you are and speak from that place. Let your personality come through. The audience will trust you more if they see you as a real person. It’s ok to show emotion – you want the audience to feel. That’s what they’ll remember. But you want to be sure that your emotions are controlled. It’s ok to tear up or let your voice get shaky. But you don’t want to find yourself weeping or crying to the point where it’s tough to get back on track. It will also make people uncomfortable. That’s where practice helps.
- Focus on what you are there to achieve and tap into that deep desire to deliver your message. Focus on why your story matters – and let that be the source of your confidence. When I was invited to give a talk at the Global Summit of Women, I was told the audience could be up to 1000 people. I panicked. I used all of the tips I’ve mentioned – but what really helped me was tuning into my message and reminding myself why it was so important. I was talking about how we had the opportunity to eliminate cervical cancer. I had known and become friends with many cervical cancer survivors. But I especially thought of one woman I had worked with, Susan Holleran. She had died 2 years earlier from cancer – but before she died, she presented me with an angel pin. “You are an angel,” she said to me. “You help fight for all of these women and give us a voice. You are our angel.” I wore the pin in front of the nearly 1000 people and thought of Susan as I spoke. I was speaking for her and for all of the women I had met. And that gave me confidence.
“If you don’t know what you want to achieve in your presentation, your audience never will.” – Harvey Diamond
- Repeat this mantra - “I’m not nervous. I’m excited!” In both nervousness and excitement, your heart beats faster, your hands get clammy, and your mouth gets dry. On a physiological level, being nervous and being excited aren’t that different. Nervousness can be seen as excitement in disguise. So if you can reframe your nerves as excitement, you can change your attitude. Harvard Business School psychologist Alison Wood Brooks calls this “anxiety reappraisal.” It’s a fancy way of saying change the way you think about those butterflies in your stomach and that pounding heartbeat. Being fearless isn’t about not feeling fear. It’s about transforming fear into excitement. When you feel jittery, repeat to yourself, “I’m not nervous. I’m excited. I’m not nervous. I’m excited.”
After Your Speech
- Continue accepting opportunities to speak. The only way to get better is to keep at it. And getting in front of an audience is the best way to find your voice, release your fear, and share your story with the world!
There is no magic solution to becoming a confident public speaker. But there are a number of ways to improve. What are some ways that you help fight the fear of public speaking? Send me an email or post them on my Facebook page so that we can all help each other.