Some people just enjoy public speaking, but if you’re like me a few years ago, speaking in front of an audience causes a lot of stress and anxiety. I didn’t even need to be the center of attention for my heart to race faster or for my hands to get clammy. Yet all sorts of people do it — from presidents, politicians, and celebrities, to teachers and business executives. If they can do it, anyone can do it!
I’ll share some of my tips on how you can manage your social anxiety before a speech or presentation in order for it not to interfere with your performance. And we’ll go over some strategies such as preparation beforehand as well as techniques during your speech that can help too.
Why Do You Fear Public Speaking?
It’s important to understand why public speaking scares you since the root of a lot of the fear comes from the unknown. If you know why you’re so scared during a presentation or giving some sort of talk, it’ll be a lot easier to deal with — and even overcome your fear. Here are some reasons why public speaking might be so scary:
You don’t know what you’re going to say or how to say it.
There are so many situations where this is just completely untrue. First of all, you know what your topic is and the content. You know how to organize it and present it in a way that makes sense. Even if you’re winging it, at least you know what you want to talk about.
You’re not sure how people will react.
It’s true that when people hear something new or are confronted with a controversial idea, there could be some sort of backlash (if only in your own head). However, once you have confidence in yourself and what you have to say, this will become much less of an issue.
You worry about making mistakes and looking stupid.
This is also a result of how you think people will react. The reality is that the majority of people will be understanding and forgiving if you mess up. It’s important to get a grip on this fear early in order to do well when it comes time for your speech.
You’re concerned about being judged by others.
People judge all the time, it’s natural for them to draw conclusions about others based on their actions, words, and appearance. You can’t control other people’s opinions or what they do with that information — but you have control over your own actions and words!
These are just some of the most common reasons why someone might be afraid of public speaking. The next step is to see how you can deal with them so they don’t get in your way.
Dealing With Your Fear
Now that you know why you’re afraid to speak in public, it’s time to learn how to deal with those fears before your speech. Here are a few strategies that will help:
Focus on the audience
Think about who’s out there listening and what they want from you. Do they want information? Entertainment? A change of perspective? The goal here is to identify who your audience members are and what role they play — this will help you come up with an approach that works for everyone in the crowd. Try to take a few minutes beforehand to imagine your audience — What are they wearing? How do they look?
Prepare and calm down
Even if you’ll be presenting without any notes or preparation beforehand, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. If you’ve done a good job planning your speech, then it should be pretty clear how things will flow. That way you’ll know what to expect and hopefully, do a better job at staying calm when things don’t go as planned.
Say something positive
Whenever you’re feeling nervous or anxious, take a moment to say something good about yourself. For example, you might think the audience doesn’t want to hear from you because you’re someone new to the area. Even if numerous other people will share their opinion on the topic, it doesn’t mean everyone is against what you have to say. You can also make a list of things that make you feel good about yourself and refer to it during the presentation.
Be prepared for interruptions
Sometimes people will ask questions or make remarks during your presentation. They may seem like they’re out of line, but this could provide an opportunity for further engagement with your audience members and an interesting point for discussion. When this happens, it’s important to know how to respond without making things awkward. You might even want to consider working in a question and answer portion at the end so you have some time to continue the conversation.
Have a plan for rejection
The worst part about public speaking is when people don’t like what you’re saying or find you boring. This can lead to a lot of nervousness and anxiety because you feel as though they didn’t like your presentation and that everyone is judging you. I’d be lying if I said this isn’t a scary thing (in fact, I’ve dealt with it myself), but it’s absolutely something that’s possible in real life. The way to deal with rejection is to have a plan for it. Whether it be working on your body language or coming up with some sort of positive reinforcement, you’ll be better prepared for whatever happens next.
Mind your breathing
This is a simple technique that can help calm you down significantly. Breathing slowly and deeply can help bring things back into perspective when you’re feeling nervous or anxious — plus it has numerous physical benefits too.
These suggestions are just the beginning of what’s available when you want to deal with your public speaking fears before a speech. Now that you’ve got a plan for keeping your mind at ease, you can focus on other practical things like:
This is the most important thing to do to overcome any kind of fear. The more time you spend practicing positive speech and presentation skills, the more prepared you’ll be when it really matters.
Try new things
This goes hand-in-hand with practicing. Find ways to get comfortable with using new techniques to make your presentation more engaging. For example, if you’ve never spoken in front of a group before, try doing it from either a panel or standing up while others are seated. Not only can this help you train your voice and body for public speaking — it will show you what’s comfortable to do and what isn’t.
Practice with friends
The best way to practice is with others who can give honest feedback about how you’re doing. Find some people to act as mock audience members and give you feedback after you’ve completed your presentation. The more practice you get in front of a few people, the more comfortable it will be when you have an actual event.
Just do it
Make an effort to go out and speak in public even if it’s just for fun. You’ll learn how to deal with nerves, get feedback on how you’re doing, and begin overcoming your fear of public speaking altogether. It’s the most important thing you can do as a speaker.
Some people feel as though they can’t communicate effectively when using slides. In reality, most presentations work perfectly well without them (I regularly present without using any slides). Nevertheless, I’m going to recommend trying to use PowerPoint or Keynote for your future presentations because it can give you the ability to edit and create an attractive visual presentation. If you decide that’s not a good fit for you, it’s important to keep in mind that graphics and animation can be fun and effective.
Keep Your Presentation Simple
Your presentation can be simple or complex. You’re the one that will decide what works best for you. If you have too many details, then it will be difficult to make things interesting and keep people engaged. If all you have is a few simple ideas, then people won’t know what to expect. People typically prefer presentations with a mix of both — so find creative ways to cover all the main topics.
Suppress Your Impulses
If you’re like me, then you might get upset and anxious during presentations because it feels unfair when things don’t go your way (even though they probably are). I recommend trying to separate your emotions from your presentation. As you’re presenting, pretend like you’re doing something fun — like playing a video game. You might have to trick yourself at first, but it will really help to keep you from getting too upset.
Be Excited About What You Have To Say
You’ll need enthusiasm for what you have to say if you want people to listen and be interested in it. If you’re excited, then they will be too. Bring that excitement to your practice sessions too. You’ll feel more confident when you’re speaking in front of real people and that will be reflected in the presentation itself.
Speak With Energy
When people are listening to you, they’re also looking at what you’re doing with your body, facial expression, and gestures (all of which communicate in a fraction of a second). Try not to just rely on words — use all your senses. Smile and make eye contact with people when you speak so they can watch for any changes in your body language.
Speak At Smaller Events
If you’re really afraid of speaking in public, then it’s best to start at smaller events with people who don’t know as much about you. It’s easier to be nervous talking to family and friends than being in front of a group of strangers. If that happens to be your situation, then try talking at some local meetings and events where no one will know your name or what to expect from you. This will help relax your mind while giving you some small successes along the way as well.
In conclusion, public speaking is less intimidating than most people think it is. The day of your first presentation will probably be a little nerve-wracking, but after that, you’ll have the confidence to get better at speaking in public. Remember to prepare in advance, pace yourself while presenting, and try not to let nerves get the best of you.
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