For many people, public speaking feels more vulnerable and exposed than being seen naked. It’s no surprise that speaking in public is one of the top fears for Americans, according to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears. More than 26 percent of the population reports being afraid to speak in public.
Perhaps it’s about feeling inadequate to speak to a group of peers. And often, the anxiety of public speaking causes physiological issues like tunnel vision, profuse sweating, loss of memory, and the inability to create coherent speech. But for business owners, managers, and other positions of authority, being able to communicate effectively to a group of people is crucial.
While only a small swath of the population actually enjoy public speaking, it is possible to not just get through giving a speech but to master it, in spite of your fear.
Public speaking is very seldom sprung upon a person without adequate notice. Once you’ve committed to giving a talk, get cracking on your preparation. Thoroughly research your topic and script what you’d like to say. Remember, you’re the expert in the room on your topic. If you’ve become well-versed on the information you’re presenting, you’ll appear more confident as a result.
The best public speaking engagements all have one thing in common: intimacy. The speaker presents anecdotes or personal details that endear themselves to the audience. Don’t make the talk all about you, but sprinkle in one or two bits that make it more engaging.
You’ve written your script, but that’s not the end of preparation. Pass your speech along to two to five people you can trust for honest feedback. Friends aren’t often very trustworthy for honest feedback – you’re more likely to get a “great job” or “you’ll nail it” than constructive criticism to help you improve. It’s better to choose a business associate or mentor for your feedback. Trust their opinions and edit your material accordingly.
Practice Your Speech
Rehearse your speech in a mirror at first. And yes, it will feel stupid for the first few practice rounds. However, it gives you the opportunity to make mistakes without judgment, and that’s invaluable practice time.
Next, practice your speech in front of family and friends, or a small group of colleagues you’re comfortable with. Again, it will feel awkward. Your audience will be gracious and affirming, which is exactly what you need to nail the real thing.
Use inflection, tone, and pauses to increase the impact of your speech while you’re practicing – it should be a dress rehearsal for the engagement. And speaking of dress, wear something comfortable and breathable, yet can hide embarrassing sweat spots if you’re nervous.
Find a Focal Point
It’s time for the real deal. You have your notes and you’ve practiced. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get flustered or distracted. Establish a focal point before you begin your public speaking engagement. It may be someone in the audience you’ve brought for support or a spot on the wall. This is particularly helpful if you’re new to public speaking as faces in the audience may be intimidating.
Join a Club
One of the absolute best ways to beat your fear of public speaking is to meet others who also want to improve communication and leadership skills. A club like Toastmasters International provides a venue for people with a fear of public speaking to work on their skills in a safe, non-judgmental environment. You’ll find marked improvement thanks to feedback from others in your club, which leads to increased confidence in other areas of both work and personal life.
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