3 Steps to Annihilate Your Fear of Public Speaking
By Brian Krogh
We have all been there before. It’s the day you have been dreading for weeks and now the class is only an hour away or the meeting is looming on your calendar. The fear you feel is due to one factor and it is something more terrifying than Stephen King could contrive.
It is your turn to stand up and speak.
What do you do when all eyes are on you, your mouth goes dry, your heart races, and you sense panic setting in? How can you master the art of staying composed and professional in the midst of overwhelming fear?
It’s simple. Give yourself CPR.
C – Control Everything You Can Control
In any public speaking situation there are things you cannot control. You cannot decide if people are on time, nor can you make sure someone’s excessively loud and obnoxious cell phone will not ring in the middle of your most important point.
Worrying about all the things that could happen is enough to drive anyone crazy, but there are many things you can control that will help to ease your nerves.
Here’s a few things you can do:
- Arrive early to the room in which you will present. Go stand at the front of the empty space and picture what it will be like to deliver an amazing presentation there.
- Hook up your computer to the projector and make sure your slides work long before the meeting is scheduled to begin.
- Get a good night’s sleep before you speak.
- Eat well.
- Talk with audience members as they enter the room.
- Take slow, deep breaths.
- Look at people in the eye.
- Think positively about the opportunity.
Simply focusing on the things you can control rather than the things you cannot will give you confidence.
READ: Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun – One of the most helpful and practical discussions of the fear surrounding public speaking and how you can control the environment is found in this book.
P – Prepare and Practice
One of my former sales managers reminded our team of the “5 P’s” before an important meeting – Proper preparation prevents poor performance.
The same is true in public speaking. Putting together a great professional presentation takes hours. There’s no other way around it. Are you crystal clear on what you want to say and why you want to say it? Have you thought through why this material should matter to your audience? Can you sum up your entire presentation in one sentence? Are your slides aesthetically pleasing? Does your slide deck act as a helpful visual aid for the audience?
Few things will develop your confidence like being fully prepared.
Once you have developed your presentation stand in front of a mirror and give your speech. Do it again. Now, find a few trusted colleagues or gently force your friends and family to listen to you. Ask them what they thought. Make some changes and give the presentation again to your mirror. Smile. You are ready.
By the time you have completed the above process you will be far less nervous.
READ: Resonate by Nancy Duarte – A very practical guide to preparing an amazing professional presentation. Other books talk about the theory of developing a speech or TED-style talk, but Duarte actually shows you how to do it.
R – Remember the Response is Normal
There’s a reason public speaking is at the top of nearly every poll on people’s greatest fears. The reason is, everyone gets nervous when it’s their turn to speak!
This reality caused Mark Twain to quip, “there are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars.” Indeed, iconic musicians, politicians, actors, and business leaders struggle with stage fright just like you.
Those butterflies in your stomach are a natural biological reaction our bodies have experienced since the dawn of time. Simply put, your body is reacting as if you are standing in a vast wilderness, unarmed, with a pair of beady eyes staring at you from the bushes. Your brain senses danger and reacts in kind.
This is when you must remind your confused brain that you are not in a dangerous situation. The wilderness is just a stage or conference room, and those beady eyes is an audience who is cheering for you not against you. Even when the stakes around your presentation are high, they are almost always not life and death, which is what your brain is perceiving.
The difference between us and those who have mastered the art of public speaking is not that they do not get nervous, it is that they have learned to put this natural reaction in proper perspective.
So, the next time it is your turn to speak. Pause outside the room, stand on your toes and stretch your arms wide. Take a deep breath. Now take another one. Remind yourself that this is a safe space and the audience is not some predatorial attacker lurking in the bushes. Take all that nervous energy and use it to give concentrate on your amazing practice and preparation. You know what you want to say, now you just need to say it. Then, go knock that speech out of the park.
WATCH: The Science of Stage Fright (And How To Overcome It) by Michael Cho – a helpful video detailing the biological response to public speaking and some practical tips to respond.
No one fully “gets over” the fear of public speaking, they only learn how to control their nerves and leverage the emotions to their advantage. You can do this too by simply giving yourself a little CPR.
Control everything you can control, prepare and practice, and remember the response is normal and you too will wow an adoring audience.