Tomi writes regularly at Think. Write. Inspire where she shares stories about her love of inspiring and helping others. This post was originally featured there.
I was shocked the first time I read in one of my Public Speaking books that people feared public speaking more than death. I also recently found out that my sister, a successful business woman with her MBA, took Public Speaking in college. The night before her first speech she researched, wrote, and practiced her speech. The following day she walked right past the door to her classroom and went straight to the registrar and promptly dropped the course. It never fails that when someone finds out I am a college teacher, they inevitably ask me what I teach. When I say Public Speaking, the responses are the same “Oh, I need that class. I hate to speak in public” or “I could never do that; I’m too scared.” My usual response is, “That’s why I love teaching it. It’s so much fun to see people conquer their fears.”
According to Psychology Today, “fear of public speaking is also a fear of death – an emotional death. We feel naked and exposed in front of an audience. We think people are going to scrutinize everything we say and do.” I have seen students cry, fumble, turn red, break out in hives, never look up from their paper, and even become so nervous a six-minute speech turned into a 15 minute speech.
So, what can we do about it? It’s actually easier than you think. The following tools come from my teaching and life experience, and from several communication books I have taught from over the years:
- Approach your audience with confidence. I cannot tell you how many times I have told students to walk to the podium with their shoulders back and their heads up. Act confident even though you are not. Nobody wants to hear this, and we all know it, you will be judged, you will be looked at. So what? Act as if you’ve got this. You know what you are doing, and what you are saying matters. If you believe in yourself (or at least can give this impression), your audience will believe in you as well.
- Breathe. Please. It’s amazing what breathing can do for you. Take a deep breath before you begin. Remember to breathe during your presentation. Dr. Oz has a 3 minute relaxation breathing technique on his website that can help you create a sense of calm before you step up to the podium. Find something that works for you.
- Focus on your message, not on yourself. You are up there for a reason. You have a message to communicate. Think of your audience and what you are conveying to them. It’s amazing what this shift in focus can do for your nerves.
- Prepare and practice. Not every circumstance allows us to do this, but on the occasions when you know you will have to get up in front of others, be ready! Get clear on what your main point is. Write an outline of your main points. Practice, practice, then practice again. You don’t need to memorize your speech word for word. You do need to know your main points.
- Have a strong introduction and conclusion. You will be amazed at how the jitters will subside once you get through your intro. Remember how you walked up there with confidence even though you didn’t feel it? Well, get through your introduction, and you will actually feels some of that confidence becoming your own.
- Look at your audience while giving your speech. Smile. Breathe. Remember this is about them, what you have to share with them. No one likes to be read to or at. Do your best to use a conversational tone.
- Turn your nervous energy into positive energy. If channelled properly, nervousness may actually boost your communication. It is natural to feel nervous. In fact, a speech is better when there is energy. No one enjoys a monotone voice and a presentation with little life to it. I always tell my students that if they are bored with their speech, the audience will be bored as well.
- Visualize yourself being successful. Restructure the negative self-thoughts. Visualize yourself approaching the audience with confidence, calmness, and joy. Think of the audience smiling and nodding their heads, you being engaging. You get the picture.
So the next time you are called upon to speak in public, try these techniques. See for yourself if they work. And by the way, my sister, the one who walked right past the classroom door, works for a Fortune 500 company and gives presentations on a regular basis. You can do it, too!