10 ways to banish the fears of public speaking
Many people fear to speak in public. I always remember reading an article that stated a study that more people feared public speaking over death! Added to this, it is rare to find this skill being taught in any school; you're just told to stand up in front of everyone and read aloud. This can be a very negative experience for many people, and if we are not careful, we can take this further into adulthood.
The reality is though that many jobs involved an element of public speaking, especially management roles where you are required to brief and motivate staff. The ability to speak confidently is a life skill; you’re more likely to succeed in a job interview or contribute more effectively when working as part of a team. Moreover, you will be more confident in breaking the ice and starting new conversations with strangers. You will be a more effective networker and be able to mix well in many social settings and situations.
A key thing to remember is that you are not alone, nearly everyone has a fear of public speaking, and the fear is a perfectly natural state to be in. Our Train the Trainer courses add additional value to public speaking, but here are some top tips that you can use now:
1. Have Powerful Physiology. If you act 'as if you’re the boss' often you get to be boss is an old principle in business. And now one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, Harvard, has proved the idea. Organisational psychologist Professor Amy Cuddy has shown that when people change their postures into dominant poses, their testosterone goes up, and their cortisol goes down. Those changes are associated with leadership roles, and people do feel more powerful when they adopt the appropriate body language. Walk on stage with confidence, with your shoulders back and arms powerful.
2. Breathe. Healthy, deep breathing improves your ability to be effective whenever you are facing a particularly stressful situation. So it’s natural that you’d need it before delivering presentations, or when you’re about to deliver bad news, or when you need to ask for something important. Deep breathing helps relieve nervous energy. It helps develop a strong voice, and it helps to strengthen personal intensity. It is important for our energy, our focus, and concentration. Unfortunately, most of us breathe with our shoulders. We’re shallow 'chest breathers' where our stomach goes in, and shoulders go up. But if you fill your lungs with a deep inhale and follow it up with a slow exhale, it will relax and refresh you.
3. It’s not about you. Start by taking the pressure off of you and your performance. No matter who you’re speaking to, your focus needs to be in one place only — on your audience. It’s not about you. It’s all about them. Audience-centred speaking will help to move your audience to action. You need to listen to your audience from the moment you step in front of people. And when you ask ‘How are you?’ of an audience, wait to see how some members of that audience actually are. Don’t continue until you’ve learned the answer, either verbally or nonverbally. Take a good look around the room, smile while you make some eye contact, take a few steps toward the group, and let your hands fall open gracefully toward the audience — as though you wished you could give them a big hug.
4. Don’t take anything personally. As long as your information is correct, nobody is going to hold anything against you if you make a mistake. Follow the examples of great comedians. Instead of letting mistakes interrupt the show, they incorporate them into the show. They laugh at themselves. This gets the audience to laugh with them instead of at them. With a public presentation, you want the audience to laugh with you when something goes wrong instead of laughing at you. You can achieve this by not taking mistakes personally and having a sense of humour and perspective about them.
5. Stay present. A public speaking event often involves a lot of distractions for the speaker. Unfortunately, these distractions draw us away from what’s happening in the present moment. So it’s important that you anchor yourself: to yourself, to your audience, and to your content. Focusing on your breath is one tactic you can use to feel centred within ourselves and your presentation. To stay present with your audience, remember that the audience is filled with people – with individual human beings just like you and me – and by connecting with them one at a time. And, finally, to stay present your message, remember what it is that you want to accomplish. Why have you been asked to speak in the first place? What do you feel passionately about that brings us to this presentation? What is the gift that you are sharing with your audience? What is your core message? When we focus on these questions rather than our fear, we can stay grounded in what’s truly important to us.
6. Talk to your chimp. Say “Thank you for sharing”. No matter what, there’s going to be a little voice in your head saying something to you. More likely than not, that chimp is going to be chattering away, telling you that you can’t do it. But remember that you’re stronger than you think. When that little voice starts going on and attacking your confidence, say to yourself, “Thank you for sharing” and move on. Don’t respond. Don’t listen. Don’t dwell. Don’t work yourself up into a tizzy. Instead, acknowledge that it’s just your mind (chimp) trying to get the best of you, and move on.
7. Remember, you don’t look as nervous as you feel. Remember what “fear” is. Fear is the anticipation of pain. Is your fear real or imagined? Chances are likely that it’s imagined. Your fear is not that you don’t know your topic. It is that you don’t know what will happen when you step to the podium. When you’re walking out on stage, no one knows you’re nervous.
8. It gets easier. Really and truly, it does get easier. Get practise and feedback in a safe environment by joining a public speaking group like Toastmasters. You’ll get the chance to learn from watching others. And you’ll be reminded that you’re not alone with your fear. Something that helps more than anything is practising the outline of what you want to say. The more you know your content, the less nervous you’re likely to feel.
9. People want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They’re for you and really don’t want you to fail. So give them what they want and feel great in the process!
10. Trust yourself. As long as you know where your content is starting, and where you want to go, trust that you’ll be able to take your audience from Point A to Point B. Know where you’re going by picking a few main points and bring them to life with stories. If you practise enough, you’ll soon come across smooth. And know that you CAN do it.
I am often told that our courses help with overcoming the fear of public speaking. We have a range of Train the Trainer and presentation skills courses from standard to advanced that we deliver throughout the UK. These courses will significantly improve your confidence regarding public speaking in any environment.
Ralph Moody is the founder of Target Training and specialises in trainer and management development. You can read more about him here.