Wringing the Fear out of Public Speaking
I am a public speaker and a book author. Many times, when traveling on business, I meet people on planes who, finding out what I do, say, “Oh, I could never do that! I would die!"
They even look uncomfortable just saying it, as if they're about to break out in a cold sweat. These folks are not alone: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73 percent of the population. That's a huge portion of the population!
However, I come bearing good news. The news is that, with work and practice, public speaking is something you can get comfortable doing. Here are some tools and techniques for getting over your fear of public speaking or at least reducing it to a more manageable level you can live with when you do present to an audience.
It's not as hard as you are think! I promise.
Change your mindset.
When I work with people in presentation-skills training programs, they say things like, “I hate public speaking.” They also say, “I get very nervous when I have to present in front of a group.” They have a whole list of terrible things they say about public speaking, in fact.
Yet this self-talk exemplifies a negative mindset; and what is interesting about self-talk is, you believe what you say to yourself. You are telling yourself to be nervous and uptight. If you tell yourself that you hate public speaking, then you will hate it. Your brain takes your command and follows it.
According to Psychology Today: “Plenty of research indicates positive self-talk creates positive results. In an analysis of 32 different studies of self-talk in sports, it indicates that the specific words we use when talking to ourselves also play a role in how well we perform.” My own advice echoes this and is simple: Just change your language and the thought.
Think and say, “I am excited about presenting.” Or, say, “I really enjoy giving presentations.” And, guess what? Eventually, your brain will believe you. Try it for a few weeks.
Just like anything else in life we're fearful of, the more we expose ourselves to it, or the more we ourselves do it, the more we reduce our anxiety.
I'm sure you were nervous the first time you drove a car, and now you are very comfortable. That is a result of having driven a lot. You've practiced driving for years. The way to do that with presenting is to practice in safe, small groups first, to get practice, and have less pressure. You can volunteer to give more presentations at work. If you are involved with charities or community groups, volunteer to give presentations there.
You might also want to join Toastmasters, a nonprofit group dedicated to teaching people to learn to speak more effectively. At Toastmasters, you can practice giving short presentations in a safe, friendly and very supportive environment, with other peole who are also there to learn.
I'm surprised that many people aren't familiar with this great resource. It's very affordable and has many Toastmasters chapters around the world. As speaker and self-help book author, Robin Sharma, once said, “I used to be incredibly afraid of public speaking. I started with five people, then I'd speak to 10 people. I made it up to 75 people, up to 100, and now I can speak to a very large group, and it feels similar to speaking to you one-on-one.”
I often say that, "Preparation reduces trepidation." The more prepared you are, the less anxious you will be, but you need to prepare in the right way. I think step one of preparation is knowing your audience. Who are they, what do they want and what are they expecting? What do they need to learn? The second step is to know your objectives. Is your goal to inform, educate, inspire or get them to take some action?
The third step is to prepare your presentation and materials (like handouts). The last step is crucial -- and that is to practice out loud and ideally in the space where you will be presenting. Many people will practice by quietly reading through their notes while mumbling to themselves. The first time they say it out loud in their presentation, it will sound weird to them because it is the first time they have said it out loud. Practice it precisely the way it will be presented. As Tony Robbins once said, "It's what you practice in private that you will be rewarded for in public."
Get training and education.
Find out what resources are available on presentation skills and educate yourself. This might be a training program offered at work, a webinar, an online program ( like Udemy, for example), a video on YouTube or a TED talk. It could be any one of the thousands of books available on presentation skills. You can find lots of articles on sites just like this one, Entrepreneur. Or Google what you need and find a rich treasure trove of resources. The best thing about many of these resources is they are free or very inexpensive. When you gain knowledge, your confidence will increase.
It is all just a matter of working at it; You can reduce your fear and be a calm and confident speaker. You can do this!
As President Gerald Ford once said, “If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.”