This is the fourth and final part of my series of articles about creating a top-notch presentation.
Click below to read the previous parts:
This week I am going to share my tips for managing your fear of public speaking.
1. It’s normal to feel nervous
Most people feel nervous or even anxious about public speaking. In extreme cases, the fear of public speaking can be paralysing.
I heard that even the famous life coach Anthony Robbins, who now speaks to crowds of 7,000 at a time, used to be sick with anxiety before his first large events – so sick that he would throw up before going on stage.
It’s OK to feel nervous – we all are. The only question is whether you will let this stop you from practising to become better and more comfortable at public speaking. I think you know what my advice is!
2. Confidence comes with practice
Often we avoid situations such as public speaking because we do not feel confident enough. There is an implied assumption that we should have confidence before we do the activity we worry about. “If only I had more confidence, then I would be better at public speaking.”
Yet confidence works the other way around. It is not a precondition for speaking in public. Confidence in public speaking (and in any other skill) builds as the result of speaking in public while we do not yet have confidence in our skills. There is no way to gain confidence in public speaking without diving into it regardless of our nervousness.
It’s the same with everything else that we learn. Just think back to your first driving lesson. How nervous where you then and how confidently do you drive now, without even thinking about it any longer?
So practice is the best way forward if you want to become more confident, and better at, public speaking.
I suggest that you start practising in small and safe environments, for example at your team meetings at work or at family gatherings. There are also public speaking clubs like Toastmasters, where beginners have an opportunity to take their first steps, learn tools for public speaking and practise it on a regular basis.
3. Rehearse – a lot!
If you are preparing yourself for a presentation or any other public speaking opportunity, I recommend that you rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. I do this by speaking out loud each speech I am preparing at least three times, word by word. You could do the first few rounds of rehearsing alone and then a final one with friends or family listening.
If you are more daring, you could also film yourself. It can be tough watching yourself on video, but it will make you become more aware of how you speak and how you use your body.
As you rehearse, you will become more confident in the content and the style of your presentation. When you are then up for the live event, you can almost perform it on autopilot and focus more on managing your emotional state, your gestures and your interactions with the crowd.
4. A few tools for managing your emotions
Whilst I wrote that nervousness was completely normal when it comes to public speaking, there are a few tools that you can use to calm you down:
- Remember to breathe! Whatever the emotional state you are struggling with, taking calm and deep breaths has a soothing effect on your body. It’s a great first step to calm you down. You could also learn specific breathing techniques that will help you relax. Just Google “breathing exercises public speaking”.
- Anchor positive states: Ask a coach or NLP practitioner to give you exercises that will help you call up states of relaxation and confidence at will. This can be done through a technique called “anchoring”.
- Visualise success: Prepare yourself for your speech by sitting in a quiet space with eyes closed and visualise yourself speaking with confidence. Run through the entire event in your mind, including the applause and all the compliments you will receive at the end of your talk. This is the same technique that athletes use to improve their performance.
- Look for an ally in the crowd: I find that it helps to look for one member in the audience who seems sympathetic or at least attentive. Maybe someone who smiles or nods affirmatively as you are speaking. If you focus on him or her, you will probably find that it helps you calm down a bit.
- Imagine they are all naked. Last but not least, there is the good old trick of imagining your audience naked in front of you! It will make you feel less vulnerable and you may even chuckle a bit. Together with the deep breathing, this will loosen up some of your tension.
5. Be OK with imperfection
The best way to overcome fear is to make peace with the worst-case scenario. It is impossible to create success without failure, so we’d better learn to accept it as a reality of life.
What’s really the worst thing that could happen if you lost your words, mumbled or got laughed at? You will survive it! And what’s failure anyway? Just because your presentation could have been slicker, it does not make it a failure.
The more you allow for flaws, the better you will become at public speaking, because you will be more relaxed and more willing to practise. Each occasion will give you new information about what is working and what not. On the other hand, if you keep yourself “safe” by avoiding public speaking opportunities or postpone stepping into the limelight until you somehow magically become ready, you will block your professional and personal growth.
I would like to finish off with a promise to you: If you keep practising and adopting a playful approach to public speaking, you will quickly become better at it. My bet is that, eventually, you will even enjoy it. Just imagine what opportunities your improved public speaking and presentation skills will open up for you, whether in your career, business or private life.
If you would like to talk to me about ways to prepare for an upcoming presentation or about improving your public speaking and influencing skills generally, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Executive Career & Life Coaching for Masterful Living®