As you step to the front of the room, or inch towards the microphone, you may find yourself suddenly sweating. Your mouth has gone dry. The topic you intended to discuss suddenly makes no sense whatsoever, despite your extensive research and preparation. The fight or flight instinct kicks in, and you can’t imagine why you agreed to give this presentation in the first place!
Welcome to the Glossophobics Club!
Speaking in public is something that causes many people anxiety. Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is very common.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to help yourself become more comfortable with presentations or speaking in a big meeting
In fact, learning how to speak in public without fear will require mindful practice, but it’s definitely possible!
Setting Yourself Up to Speak in Public Successfully
The first part of learning how to speak in public without fear happens before you even open your mouth or approach the podium. Being prepared for your presentation is the best way to set yourself up for success over those bothersome nerves that can get in the way.
While none of us want to admit to procrastinating, it’s a simple fact that we tend to pay the least amount of attention to the chores or tasks that we don’t like.
Therefore, many people find themselves putting off preparation for a big speech or presentation until the last minute. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Lack of Preparation = Anxiety
Unfortunately, this method may be contributing to your public speaking anxiety. The more comfortable you are with your topic, the more natural it will feel to speak about it: whether that’s in front of the mirror, or in front of a meeting room filled with stakeholders.
That means research, and lots of it. Know your topic like second nature. That way, if you misspeak, or need to clarify a point for an audience member, you won’t be intimidated or unprepared.
You may even see the questions coming before they’re even asked, and the answer will be right there, thanks to your expert-level research and preparation.
Organization is also a must, from the very moment you realize a public speech is going to be required.
From your very first notes, to your outline, to the props or visual aids you incorporate, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything ready to go and within your reach.
Note that having everything organized won’t ensure nothing will go awry.
Powerpoints not loading, internet freezing, and microphone batteries losing power are all possibilities in every public speaking scenario, but being organized and prepared will help you overcome these challenges gracefully.
Rehearse like You’re Already There…
Lastly, you want to be sure to practice your complete presentation, from the first syllable to the last “thank you”.
Practice alone. Practice in front of friends and family. Practice in the car, in the shower, or in front of the mirror. Many people report that hearing their own voice for long periods of time gives them extra fear when speaking in public, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
With enough practice, hearing your speech will feel very normal. In fact, if you’re interrupted or fall off course, you’ll find it easier to pick up where you left off if you’ve practiced a significant amount.
The Brain Game Behind Public Speaking
A lot of our fear about speaking in public is purely psychological. After all, it’s rare that your audience will actually start a riot during your presentation.
That being said, psychological fear is very real, and can cause all sorts of physical and emotional reactions that will only make your nervousness and anxiety worse.
There are a few things you can do before and during your presentation to help keep your confidence on track.
First, take a moment before you start speaking to consider what you’re truly afraid of. Are you scared that you’ll look like a fool in front of your coworkers, peers, or management?
That’s a very rational fear, but keep in mind- they’ve all been in your shoes before. Even the president of the company doesn’t get their job without having made many awkward presentations throughout their career.
In fact, you might find it helpful to address your nerves to your audience. A quick, jovial introduction such as, “bear with me here: public speaking isn’t my strongest point”, can be a great ice breaker for both you and your audience.
Remember, a lot of people are uncomfortable speaking in front of crowds, so your audience is likely more sympathetic than you know.
Does a brief pause or silence during your presentation intimidate you? Don’t let it. If you find yourself getting tongue tied, or uncomfortable, let the pause happen. Take a sip of water, or regroup and focus on your notes.
A long deep breath might feel like it takes a lifetime, but for your audience, the pause will be almost imperceptible.
Keeping the Presentation Going
Another helpful tip is to focus on just two things: your material, and your success. Each time you practice, think of the things that you liked about your speech.
The day of, look forward to your presentation, if only because you’ll finally be on the other side of the stress: “By this time tomorrow, my speech will be behind me”.
Before you head to the front of the room, or greet your audience, think to yourself “this is going to go well”.
During your speech, concentrate on your materials and your knowledge. If you feel more comfortable staring at your notes at first, that’s fine. Many people understand wanting to stay focused, and this can actually be very important if you have visuals or props that need detailed explanation.
Choose Your Favorites…
At the same time, many people find it helpful to address one member of the audience at a time. By not focusing on the entire group, or their rustling, coughing, fidgeting, and lack of attention, you won’t feel like the center of attention.
Pick one person to have a conversation with about your well researched topic, then another, then another.
Soon, it will feel less like you’re talking to a room full of people, and more like you’ve shared some very important information with a handful of your closest friends.
Last But Not Least…
Remember that your presentation or speech is not a performance. You don’t have to have all of your lines memorized.
Your goal is to fully and efficiently present a point of view, information, or ideas to a group of people who, in all likelihood, are very interested in your topic.
This is not a high school lecture hall, and you won’t be graded for your presentation. While the stakes might be higher, so too will the level of forgiveness your audience has for human errors such as misspeaking, stuttering, or needing to clear your throat.
Assume the audience knows you are a human being, and above all, don’t forget to breathe!