When it comes to phobias, public speaking consistently ranks as human beings’ number one fear. From the fear of being judged, to concerns about forgetting something important, people’s justifications for passing up opportunities to speak in front of a crowd stem from a range of insecurities that, luckily, can be overcome with time and practice.
Becoming a confident orator can help you overcome the uncertainty of sharing your ideas and passions with groups large and small, professional and personal. There are countless approaches and exercises to help people conquer their fear of speaking in front of others; here are a few of them:
Strategies for Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking
Some speakers, particularly those who are experienced and comfortable in social situations, simply wish to improve their public speaking out of necessity. Perhaps they want to exude greater stage presence, leave a better impression on colleagues and business professionals, or remove fillers like “um” and “you know” from their vocabulary.
On the other hand, many individuals are paralyzed by the very thought of speaking in front of a large group. Harvard professor and master public speaker Stephen D. Cohen recognizes that, in order to be an effective speaker, people must first learn how to enjoy rather than dread speaking before an audience. Cohen offers the following advice for managing the uncertainties and insecurities that tend to surface before giving a speech:
Envision yourself as a successful public speaker.
Visualization involves seeing yourself successfully deliver the speech, from walking into the room, to the moment when the audience applauds following your conclusion.
Use relaxation techniques to calm yourself before a speech.
Cohen recommends two techniques: the “t-repeater” exercise and the gradual eye-contact method. The “t-repeater” is an exercise Cohen developed that entails turning your palms out and exhaling a “t” sound in quick succession (it will sound like “ta-ta-ta-ta-ta”). This will not only relax your nerves, but will also help you focus on your enunciation.
Cohen also recommends “easing” into eye contact. Admittedly, staring into the eyes of your audience can be daunting as well as a little distracting. Cohen suggests glancing at an audience member’s forehead or focusing along the outer rims of their eyeglasses to increase your confidence while presenting.
Practice, practice and practice some more.
You’ve likely heard the adage “practice makes perfect.” Public speaking is no exception. By reciting your presentation in front of a mirror or recording yourself on video, you can more easily pinpoint what you’re good at and what you need to improve. Also, focus on memorizing the most important parts of the presentation — the introduction and conclusion — rather than the entire speech.
How to Become an Even Better Public Speaker
Now that you’ve boosted your confidence, it’s time to polish your techniques for delivering a powerful and well-received speech. For example:
- Always consider your audience when creating and delivering a speech. Research the audience’s demographics beforehand so you can craft a presentation that not only keeps the audience’s attention, but makes them want to hear more.
- Construct your speech so that it starts with a strong introduction and ends with an even stronger conclusion. Present your main ideas in the beginning, connect them with evidence and examples in the body, and concisely review what was stated during the conclusion. This process of storytelling and developing your argument is important for any type of speech, whether in a large auditorium or in a small office.
- Don’t be afraid to express emotion by smiling, using hand gestures or exhibiting motion. If you’re describing the action of throwing a ball, mimic your description in real time to add more color and impact to your presentation. However, make sure it’s appropriate to and within the context of your speech.
- Rather than using filler words to break silence (e.g. uh, er, like, well, so, etc.), pause and think about what you want to say next before moving to the next idea in your speech. This will help you stay on topic and eliminate unnecessary words, and many argue that pauses make people sound more thoughtful, not confused or nervous.
- If you’re using a projector or whiteboard during your presentation, write your idea or click to your slide, pause for a moment, then turn back to the audience and resume speaking. This gives you a moment to collect your thoughts while your audience takes a second to absorb your presentation.
- When using slide presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint, don’t read verbatim from the slides. Use PowerPoint to highlight key points that emphasize an idea or observation. Moreover, avoid packing your slides with small, dense text that is hard to read or with busy slide transitions that can distract and disorient readers.
Whether you’re presenting during a company-wide meeting or giving a lecture to college students, public speaking doesn’t have to be a dreaded task that results in failure. Besides numerous self-help books and websites, established organizations like Toastmasters International use proven methods to help individuals overcome their fears and become confident public speakers within their organizations. Ultimately, honing your public-speaking skills is an essential asset to running a business and becoming an excellent networker, employee and overall professional.