What’s the one thing people fear most?
It takes the No. 1 spot on my list! I’ll do just about anything to get out of doing a presentation.
I’m fine in meetings. I have no problem talking to people one-on-one. But stand me in front of a group of people, and my mind becomes a barren desert with nothing but tumbleweeds rolling around.
It’s been that way since elementary school. I hated show and tell.
Decades later, you would think I’d outgrown this fear, but you would be WRONG.
So why are so many people afraid of public speaking?
Basically it comes down to: There’s safety in numbers – and vulnerability in standing alone.
Makes sense to me. When giving a presentation, my face turns red, I start to sweat, my mouth dries out and my mind goes blank. Yeah, I would say I’m feeling vulnerable!
But the good news is there’s hope.
Following this 19-step guide can help conquer your public speaking fears:
1) Admit You Have A Problem
“Hello my name is Renee, and I have a paralyzing fear of public speaking.”
2) Face Your Fear Head On
Do a little soul searching to understand the basis of your fear. Afraid people will judge you? (Me too!) Afraid of making a mistake? (Me too!) Whatever the reason, realize people who come to hear you speak do so because they want to. They’re not secretly hoping you’ll be an epic fail. On the contrary, they’re pulling for you to succeed – and secretly glad it’s not them up there.
3) Commit To Conquering Your Fear
No one can do this but you. People can help you. For example, you can join your local Toastmasters – a nonprofit organization that helps people develop public speaking and leadership skills. But you have to want to conquer your fear.
4) Pick A Topic You’re Comfortable With
This is important in the beginning. Speaking about something you’re passionate about will give you confidence, and put you at ease. When you don’t have to sweat the details and just talk from the heart, your stress level decreases.
5) Know Your Topic
OK, so what do you do if you can’t give your presentation on the benefits of adopting pets or the best Belgian beers? Experts say you need to know your subject inside and out. Do whatever research you need to do and study it. The better you understand your topic, the more confident you’ll be and the less likely you’ll make a mistake, forget something or get off track.
6) Organize The Information
What are the main points you want to convey? Write them down and make an outline. Creating an organized path lowers anxiety levels because it gives you a clear road to follow. (Don’t, however, write out your entire speech and try to memorize it. That’s a bad idea. Reason: If you forget something, you’re more apt to freeze up.) Getting organized also means considering if you’ll use props, or any kind of audio or visual aids.
7) Use PowerPoint As A Tool, Not A Crutch
PowerPoint can be your friend. It’s a great tool for keeping your presentation on track. But it can also be your enemy. Putting up paragraphs of texts or slides with endless bullet points will only serve to distract your audience from what you’re saying or put them to sleep. Your slides should contain one to two bullet points or lines of text you can use for a jumping off point.
8) Make A List Of Questions
A lot of public speaking anxiety comes from being caught off guard with questions. Think about what questions your audience might have and rehearse your answers so you’re prepared for anything.
9) Focus On Your Material, Not Your Audience
Yes, you need to present the material in a manner your audience will understand. But don’t worry whether or not you’ll be the best presenter the audience has ever seen. Focus on the information you want to convey and how you can do it in a clear, concise manner. Give them valuable info and they won’t care.
10) Practice, Practice, Practice
Want to give a good speech? Practice it! The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be. Do it for your friends, family, pets or yourself in front of a mirror. You can even record yourself and look for areas that need improvement.
11) Experience Breeds Confidence
There’s nothing like the real thing to build your confidence. The more public speaking you do, the more comfortable you’ll become. Sure, the first few times you may make a mistake. But guess what? Nobody’s perfect, especially doing something for the first time. After it’s over you’ll see you survived unscathed. In fact, you’ll probably benefit from it because you’ll know how to do it better next time.
12) Dress The Part
Consider where you’re presenting and to whom you’re addressing. Are you giving a speech in a park to a group of families? Casual, but nice attire would be fine. But it wouldn’t be appropriate for a black tie affair or a professional conference. While it’s important to look the part, it’s also important to be as comfortable as possible. Giving an hour-long presentation in pants that are too tight won’t help your anxiety level.
13) Don’t Psych Yourself Out
Asking yourself negative “what if” questions will only serve to heighten your anxiety. No one is going to boo you off the stage, so don’t even go there. If questions like, “What if I forget my speech?” or “What if I pass out?” pop into your head, rephrase them from a negative to a positive. For example, instead of “What if I get booed off the stage?” ask yourself “What if I get a standing ovation?” or “What if I kill this presentation and get the funding?” This will calm the ugly voices in your head.
14) Breathe Deeply
This isn’t some New Age mumbo jumbo. Deep breathing is very calming. It relaxes the mind and body. So before you step up to the podium, try this breathing exercise that can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a slow deep breath in through your nose. You should feel your diaphragm expand, not your chest. Then expel the air slowly through pursed lips. Do this six to 10 times before you go out on stage and you’ll be cool as a cucumber!
15) Don’t Let Them See You Sweat
Most people can’t tell you’re nervous. The signs are so subtle the average person doesn’t pick up on them. So fake it till you make it. Stand tall and smile. Even if someone picks up on the fact that you’re a little nervous, they’ll probably empathize with you.
16) Don’t Freak Out Over Audience Expressions
If you see someone in the audience on his phone, yawning or even asleep, that’s not necessarily a reflection on your presentation. That person may be dealing with a work emergency, or maybe the person yawning or asleep is a new father who was kept up all night by a crying baby. You can’t read minds, and even if you could and the person was bored, don’t worry about it. You can’t please everyone all the time. Just keep focused and do your best.
17) Interact With Your Audience So You’re Not Alone
If you want to feel instantly comfortable while you’re presenting, ask your audience questions and have them shout out answers or raise their hands. This immediately draws the audience into your presentation, and you won’t feel like you’re all alone.
18) Take a moment
If you start feeling anxious during your presentation or if you lose your place, pause and collect yourself. While it may seem like you’re pausing for an eternity, in reality it’s only a few seconds. A pause also gives your audience time to think about what you’ve said, and it can add anticipation for what you’re going to say next.
19) Evaluate your speech
Notice I didn’t say criticize yourself. If you have a video of your presentation, watch it to see how you did. Is there anything you can do better next time? Is there something you did that went over well? How was your speaking rhythm? How was your PowerPoint presentation? How was your audience interaction? Write everything down so you can use it or improve on it the next time, and keep practicing. The more you do it, the faster you’ll rid yourself of your public speaking fear.
So what about you? Do you have any tips for conquering public speaking fears? If so, feel free to add them in the comments section below.
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