Everyone, at some point in their career, will have to engage in public speaking. Whether it’s a one-time presentation or leading a weekly event, at some point in your career, you will need to speak publicly to a group. So, it is important to become comfortable with public speaking as it can have an effect on how you move through your profession. Unfortunately, for many people, public speaking is overwhelming. Many people are intimidated by the thought of public speaking. According to research, public speaking or glossophobia is the number one fear.
Luckily, through addressing and understanding that fear, it is possible to overcome the fear of public speaking and meet your public speaking goals.
What Happens When Faced With Fear of Public Speaking
The fear of public speaking is palpable in the body. When people are nervous and scared, their bodies start sweating, their voices go up an octave, their mouths dry up, and it’s hard to focus.
This is the body setting up to engage in a dangerous or perceived dangerous situation. Historically, this served as a way to prepare to fight an animal or protect ourselves from life-or-death situations. But public speaking isn’t a life or death situation, but the body doesn’t know that.
This type of fear puts the body in a fight, flight or freeze reaction. This reaction creates various changes in physiology. Blood rushes to the face, a person may feel dizzy, and digestion shuts down.
It isn’t just your body that reacts to fear your mind will betray you too. Faced with speaking in front of a crowd can make you feel confused, paralyzed, or just blank.
Even if you know the topic well, in times of fear and facing a crowd, it’s like all the information is just gone.
Identifying and understanding what fear does to the body is the first step in learning how to control it.
Fear of public speaking is a form of social performance anxiety. It can be caused by fear of looking silly, making a mistake, or being embarrassed or rejected. This fear can be caused by childhood trauma. The key to overcoming social anxiety is to understand how and why it manifests.
Performance anxiety falls into three categories.
- Somatic anxiety is a physical response to a situation. It is when you experience your heart pounding, your blood pressure rises, and your breathing is rapid and shallow.
- Cognitive anxiety is a mental response to a situation. Increased feelings of self-doubt, worry, fear of failing or making a mistake, losing focus, or going blank.
- Affective anxiety is an emotional response to a situation. It is deeply rooted in feelings and dominated by fear or perceived fear and panic.
Performance anxiety runs deep, but there are ways to combat it and stay in control of your thoughts, emotions, and body.
Steps to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking
Simply put, be prepared. Practice your presentation at least three times a day for three consecutive days prior to your presentation delivery. You should be able to communicate your information without looking at notes in a conversational way. The method I teach my students is to use a skeleton outline.
For example, If a person asks you about your family or your past, you can immediately answer without thinking because it’s your story. You must know your information for the presentation in the same way. Practice until you do. Practice in front of a mirror, your spouse, or a friend. Record yourself and practice until you can talk about your topic without notes.
If you are using a Powerpoint presentation for a visual, that is fine but don’t ever read from it. The slides are there to reinforce information for the audience. They can read the slide, you don’t need to. Instead, talk in a conversational tone about the slides.
Scope Out the Place
If possible, visit the room where you have your public speaking engagement beforehand. Find out if you will be using a microphone and how much space you have for movement. Use your body language and voice to reinforce your message and to help your audience engage with the topic.
Understand Your Audience
Think about your motivation. Why are you speaking about this topic? Who is your audience? Why should they listen to you?
Put yourself in the audience’s shoes, we call this strategic empathy. If you are taking the time out of your day to watch a presentation from a supposed expert and that person is nervously fidgeting with their papers, stumbling on their words, or worse yet, reading word for word from the slides.
How will you feel as an audience member? Probably frustrated. Time is a valued commodity, and if an audience member is giving you their time, respect it and act like the expert that you are by being calm and owning your place as the speaker. The audience came to see you talk about a topic. Do not let them down by being a bumbling fool.
Own your expertise and own your confidence in the opportunity to help and share with others and give an amazing presentation.
Everybody is nervous about giving a presentation. Every single person that speaks publicly feels some type of nervousness, but the good ones do not let it show. If you have trouble feeling confident, fake it. Treat it like a persona, a mask that you wear.
Using visualization techniques can help you overcome your fear of public speaking and lead to a mindset shift. Visualize yourself in front of the group and lead the presentation.
This is a type of mental exercise, also called by elite athletes “mental imagery,” that you can practice regularly. It is similar to how an athlete visualizes their performance before a game or match. Visualization is a powerful and underused tool.
Practical Tips to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking
- Keep a steady voice. Don’t speak too softly.
- Don’t speak too fast. Speak clearly and avoid rushing through the presentation.
- Make eye contact with different parts of the room.
- Be aware of your posture. Stand up straight and practice.
- Silence is your friend. Get comfortable with the pause, it’s a powerful tool to use for impact. Silence also shows you are in control.
- Wear comfortable clothing. Be careful if you wear new shoes, perhaps a new shirt for the first time or anything that can make you feel physically uncomfortable. Wear professionally appropriate clothing but something that properly fits and that makes you feel confident.
- Practice breathing properly while speaking. Nervous speakers often run out of breath mid-sentence. Public speaking requires proper breathing techniques to project voice and not running out of breath.
- Accept any public speaking engagements for practice. The more you speak publicly easier it becomes. Seek out opportunities to practice.
- Consider joining a group like Toastmasters to practice public speaking outside of your work environment.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to make jokes or entertain unless that comes naturally to you or fits with the venue. Be authentic and true to who you are, and others will be drawn in to listen and pay attention to your ideas.
- Critique Ted Talks and contact Dr. Weber to learn what to do from excellent speakers and what not to do from some of the not-so-great speakers. (Not all Ted Talk speakers are good public speakers. Learn from their mistakes and model the positive ones.)
If you would like to learn more about overcoming public speaking and communication styles and gain a deeper understanding of how you and your team can communicate more effectively, reach out and discover how DR. WEBER COACHING can help you or your Organization Increase productivity, Improve Public Speaking and Communications. Companies that want High Performance and Increase Profits.