Afraid of Public Speaking? You’re Not Alone

It’s the stuff of everyone’s worst nightmare – you’re on stage in front of an audience, trying to speak, and no words come out. Possibly instead, toads fall from your mouth or, even worse, the utterings you manage are little more than stutters and lisps. The thought of public speaking is enough to give most people a bad night’s sleep, even if the presentation required is only in a board room. It might surprise you to know that some of the world’s most celebrated orators feel this way. Ever hear of Winston Churchill, Warren Buffet and Julia Roberts? You might not have, had they not conquered their fear of public speaking. If they can do it, you can do it, too.        

According to the Mayo Clinic, fear of speaking in public is a common phobia which presents as a spectrum, ranging from a case of the jitters to full-out, debilitating panic. Where you are on the scale does not necessarily indicate your ability to overcome the phobia, although many people do seek out support to do so, either from a therapist, public speaking coach or within a group setting. Your motivation level will be important, as well your perseverance. Practicing multiple strategies can help even the most hesitant public speaker overcome the problem. These include: 

Speak about a topic you’re comfortable with  – If you’re an expert on carpentry required to discuss the life cycle of birds you will, of course, be uncomfortable. Opt to speak about subject matter you know well and are passionate about. This will help you field audience questions comfortably and to make salient points more readily.

Be prepared – Even if you know your stuff inside and out, take some time to organize your thoughts, writing down key points you want to make sure you hit. The more organized you are, the better.

Don’t memorize – Many people benefit from rehearsing their talk, either in front of another person they are comfortable with, or the mirror. Unless you’re a trained actor, memorization, however, may hinder the natural flow of your words, plus make it harder to rebound if you mess up.

Get feedback – If you choose to rehearse in front of a mini-audience first, get their input on your presentation before the main event occurs. This will provide powerful feedback and hopefully, bravery-boosters, too. 

Take a few moments to center yourself – Meditation or simple, deep breathing can help you feel calm before you speak. Consider visualizing a successful, powerful outcome during a meditation exercise. 

Speaking of mess-ups, it’s okay if you flub a word here and there – An occasional stutter or mispronunciation is only a big deal if you react like it is. Mistakes are to be expected and do not minimize the power of your content. 

Find a friendly face – There’s bound to be at least one person in the audience with an open face you can return to again and again. Find a person who is interested in listening, and speak directly to them at points during your talk.  

Believe in the power of your words – What you have to say is important, so focus on the message instead of the messenger. Think about what would be lost if you let your fear get in the way, and what would be gained if you don’t let panic stop you.

Go For it, again and again – The more you speak in public, the easier it will get. Keep flexing those mental muscles and before you know it, you’ll feel (and act) like the pro you are.