When we need to speak in public, to a small or large gathering, we often feel exposed and that others are going to scrutinize and judge everything we say and do. We have a need to be perfect because we might believe that the measure of our performance is also a measure of our self-worth. The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia or stage fright and up to 75 percent of people experience a fear of public speaking sometime in their life, according to the University of Iowa.
Here are 12 tips to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:
Accept nervousness as part of the process. Many people get nervous before giving a speech, performing or talking in front of a group of people. Nervousness keeps you alert. You can use the excess energy from your nervousness to add excitement and passion to what you are saying. Embrace, rather than try to avoid, your nervousness.
Don’t expect perfection. Everyone makes mistakes. Screen actors get to do another take. Stage actors learn to gloss over mistakes. Public speakers can call attention to the mistake and laugh it off or glide by the error and keep going. Most of the time, the audience never notices these mistakes. Chances are, they won’t notice yours. Avoid pausing or looking horrified as this advertises your error. Instead, keep going. You are probably the only one that noticed.
Separate your self-worth from your performance. Public speaking, whether done once in awhile or every day, is just a part of what you do. It doesn’t reflect who you are. Your performance, whether good, bad or in-between, reflects your abilities as a public speaker, not as a person.
Practice. We aren’t born as great public speakers. It is a skill that can be practiced and learned. If you want to improve, you must practice. Start small, by talking in front of a few friends for a few minutes. Slowly build up, adding more people to your audience and increasing your time “on stage.” After each performance, think about what you could improve, without judgement, and work on those areas. Practice what you want to say and how you are going to say it.
Be prepared. Do your research. Know your material, write down the main concepts you want to convey. Have some backup material in case you need to fill in time. Think about stories and examples that help make your point and add interest to your speech.
Avoid memorizing every word. You don’t need to memorize every word (if you miss a word, you will feel lost). Instead, give yourself notes on ideas you want to convey and then speak from your experience and your heart. The same is true for reading. Reading every word makes you sound canned and dry. You want to sound natural, as if you are speaking to your audience, not reading to them. Although you want to practice, you want to be flexible enough to add a few improv moments to make the speech more personal
Get to know a few people in your audience. If you are giving a presentation to coworkers then you already know your audience. But if you are giving a speech to a room full of people you don’t know, take time before the speech to talk with a few members of your audience. When giving the speech, seek them out, make eye contact and connect with them. Make connections with your audience so you can see them as friends rather than enemies, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of AmericaADAA
Add novelty to keep it interesting. Add personal stories, true stories, examples and humor. Add engagement by asking your audience questions and incorporating audience interactions into your presentation. Keep in mind your opening and your closing are both extremely important. Your opening is the way you get your audience’s attention; the closing is what they will remember.
Skip complicated, technical language. Many people feel that adding technical language gives you credibility, but instead it can make you sound pretentious. Too much complicated and technical language bores the audience.
Practice breathing while you talk. When giving small speeches or engaging in conversation with other people, be aware of your breathing. Your breathing while you are speaking allows you to control your nervousness. If needed, take a deep breath at certain times in the speech to slow yourself down and calm your nerves.
Expect good results. Some people use visualization to imagine themselves giving a great speech. When you expect positive reactions from your audience you are more likely to get them, according to University of Iowa
List your concerns. Write a list of what you are afraid of when giving a speech. Then challenge each item by coming up with a more realistic way of thinking; look for evidence from your past to show why this worry or concern isn’t necessarily true. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) suggests that you try to shift your focus from your fear to what you expect to accomplish and to the value of your speech to the audience.
When you are finished, give yourself a pat on the back for having gotten through the speech.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.