Three Ways to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

25 Jul Three Ways to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

I wasn’t always the debonair wordsmith writing for you today. I remember a time not very long ago when I was sitting in my car, hyperventilating, trying to think of a way to get out of doing my first big college presentation. My group had put together an excellent slide deck, complete with a mock commercial that I’d worked really hard on. I should have been proud to show it off, but instead, I hid so I could freak out by myself. You would think presenting to a room of friendly peers wouldn’t fill me with such palpable fear, but I was having a mini breakdown all the same. Back then, public speaking was a terrifying prospect for me. Telling me I had to give a speech was akin to telling me to walk the plank.

Skip ahead to a year after panicking in my car. I managed four presentations in one week and was cool as a cucumber. Okay, I still got a little nervous, but over the course of that year, I lost my debilitating fear of public speaking. My professors even commented on the change in my presentation style, noting that I was much more relaxed. So how did I get over it? I’ll tell you. Here are three tips for getting over your fear of public speaking.

1. Take a Breath

Something that helped me in many areas of my life, including public speaking, is learning to take a moment to put things in perspective. I ask myself “what’s the worst thing that will happen if I stumble over my words a couple of times, or have to take a pause?” Chances are that whomever I’m presenting to isn’t going to open up a trap door and send me to a rancor pit for making a mistake. The listener will probably forget about any flubs by the time you’re finished talking.

A lot of people recommend imagining that your audience is in their underwear. I guess that’s supposed to make them seem less intimidating, but think of the unadulterated confidence it takes to show up at a business meeting in your unmentionables! That kind of person radiates power, which for me makes them even scarier to present to. Instead, I imagine the much more realistic scenario that my audience bears me no ill will, and in fact, is rooting for me to succeed. I find it easier to try to make someone proud, rather than trying to avoid disappointing them.

2. Practice

The best way to prevent forgetting your material is to know it by heart. This goes for pretty much any subject, including public speaking. The common advice is to avoid memorizing your speech so that you don’t come off sounding robotic. Instead, you’re supposed to remember your main points and try to relay them conversationally. That’s good advice, but it’s not what I do. I go in the complete opposite direction and memorize. I go over the material again and again until I can say it while thinking about something else.

If I can make the words second nature, I can focus on presenting them well. I can think about my intonation and cadence, and make sure that I’m making an appropriate amount of eye contact across my audience. Is it a better habit to learn how to give a speech naturally? Probably. But my way works too. Actors have to memorize their lines and learn them so well they can ad-lib. then get right back on script without skipping a beat. Learn your speech that well, and you’ll do great.

3. Present

The reason I went from trembling lector to orator extraordinaire over that course of that year is simple; I had to present a lot. It was a bit like immersion therapy. Every time I had to present, and the world did not subsequently end, I got a bit less nervous about getting up there.  Every speech granted me a little more gumption until I could present without blocking out 20 minutes beforehand to assure myself that I would survive the experience.

If you’ve got a big presentation and need to shake out those nerves, present to people. Do it for your friends, family, and coworkers. Even your local Starbucks patrons. Okay, maybe don’t start lecturing in restaurants. But feel free to subject your loved ones to as many repetitions as you need to feel comfortable with it. The key to getting over your fear of presenting is to force yourself to do it. Then you can teach yourself that it really isn’t so bad after all.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be a master orator before you know it.

Francis King
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