12 Tips to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking and Deliver an Effective Presentation
Written by Slobodan Kezunovic
Fear of public speaking is quite common. It affects many people, not only lecturers and public figures.
Fear of public speaking can range from minor discomfort to paralysing fear when we face a situation that requires us to speak or present an idea in front of an audience.
It can be anything from taking an oral exam at school in front of the entire class, presenting stats and updates from the last quarter at a company meeting, or something as simple as giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding.
If not addressed and dealt with properly, fear of public speaking can lead to avoidance of situations that require such engagements, which can ultimately hold us back from achieving our goals and reaching our full potential in life.
For example, this avoidance can lead people to choose university courses that don’t require public speaking and they can end up working in different occupations than they actually wanted.
Others avoid speaking at company meetings at all costs, missing precious opportunities to assert themselves and move up the corporate ladder.
Most careers today require some form of public speaking, from participation in group meetings to giving presentations to clients, so the inability to deal with this common fear can be disabling and severely jeopardize our success.
On the other hand, becoming a good public speaker who can communicate ideas clearly and openly in front of others can propel our careers, help us grow personally and professionally, and build strong relationships with others.
The ability to deliver a strong presentation or an enticing pitch goes a long way, particularly in the business world, and sometimes the only thing standing between you and success is fear.
Luckily, there are a number of things we can do to bring our fear of public speaking under control and deliver an effective presentation, and by doing so move forward in our professional as well as personal life.
Identify Your Actual Fear
The first step in dealing with your fear of public speaking is to identify what it is exactly that you are afraid of.
The underlying fears surrounding public speaking are usually in fact the fear of judgment and negative evaluation by others, the fear of embarrassment and ridicule, as well as the fear of rejection.
So ask yourself, “What am I actually afraid of?”
Once you have identified your actual fear related to speaking before an audience, it is important to become aware of the fact that we also often fear our own reactions to any particular fear.
The most common feared reaction in this case is freezing during our presentation, losing our train of thought and being unable to get back on track, while the silence in the room is mounting and we can feel everyone’s puzzled stare.
When you know what you actually fear about speaking in front of others, you can better prepare certain aspects of your presentation to minimize the risk of it happening.
Keep Your Imagination in Check
When something frightens us, we do our best to avoid it, and when we avoid it, we never get the chance to experience it and learn how it actually feels.
This leaves us open to our imagination playing tricks on us and our fantasy running wild with all kinds of horrifying scenarios. In all reality, most of them are probably highly unlikely to happen.
In other words, when we lack experience and exposure to that which frightens us, we have a tendency to over-exaggerate the potential threat.
Feed Your Courage, Not Your Fear
The next important thing is to put a stop to the negative messages of fear that you keep telling yourself and replace them with a more positive self-talk.
Instead of putting yourself down with thoughts like “I can’t do this” and “I will make a fool of myself”, try to replace them with more optimistic and supportive thoughts such as “I will do my best, and my best is worth something” or “I have an important message to deliver and my audience will appreciate it”.
Visualize Your Success
Positive self-talk goes hand in hand with visualization of a positive outcome of your speaking endeavour, as opposed to drowning yourself in worry and anticipating the worst case scenario.
It is important to visualize yourself succeeding in delivering a killer speech or presentation, instead of constantly convincing yourself that you are going to fail miserably.
The goal is to build your courage to a point where you can start believing in yourself, and believing that you will get through the experience in the best possible way.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Of course, dealing with the fear will only get you so far. In order to be truly successful in situations that require speaking in front of an audience, you need to arm yourself with the necessary knowledge on the given topic you are presenting.
Proper preparation and rehearsing are key to delivering an engaging speech or presentation.
The more prepared you are, the less worried you will be about appearing anxious or your mind going blank, making it easier to focus on delivering your actual message.
This is not to say that you need to memorize your entire speech exactly word for word (this can actually be counterproductive). Just try to remember the key points and internalize the flow of your presentation.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you are in a position to do so, practice delivering your presentation in front of family members or friends whom you are comfortable with. Do it as much as possible leading up to the big day.
As with anything else in life that requires skill, the more you practice, the more confident you will be when you go face to face with the real deal.
Face Your Fear of Public Speaking
The best way to overcome any fear is through exposure to it. This means that sooner or later you will have to stop avoiding it and just go for it head on.
When you have done all you can in terms of preparation of your materials and dealing with your fear leading up to the meeting or event, there are still some useful tips to bear in mind during your actual presentation.
Stop Focusing On Yourself
One of the most important things to remember is that you need to stop focusing on yourself. You need to get out of your own head, so to speak.
Giving a presentation of something is not about you. It is about presenting new information and providing value to your audience, and that is what the recipients of your message are there for.
When you turn your focus away from yourself and towards helping your audience, you are able to activate a feeling of generosity and giving which in turn makes you feel calmer and less stressed.
Connect With Your Audience
When we are speaking in front of a large group, we tend to scan the room and feel as if we are speaking to the group as a whole. In reality, everyone present is listening to you as an individual, so you should actually speak to them as individuals as well.
You can do this by making eye contact with people and maintaining it with each person while expressing one sentence or thought. In this way, you are in a sense having a series of mini one-on-one conversations with everyone in the room.
Looking at individuals directly lets you to see their reactions and get feedback on which parts of your presentation are sparking particular interest. It also gives you an opportunity to notice if anyone has any questions and start up a two-way conversation.
A word of caution: do not lock onto just one of two people. This betrays insecurity and can even make the person feel uncomfortable, while the other may feel ‘neglected’. Make sure that you make eye contact with as many people in the audience as possible.
If possible, learn as much as you can about your audience in advance so you can tailor your message to their particular interests and style of language. This will make it easier to connect with them and avoid a situation where you might feel like somewhat of an impostor.
Focus on Communication Instead of Performance
Do your best to focus on communicating your actual message rather than on your performance. Keep in mind that your audience is there to receive the value that you have to offer, and not to evaluate you on a personal level.
When you begin to view public speaking as an opportunity to share knowledge that people will actually benefit from, your fear will fade into the background.
Don’t Rush It
You want to make sure not to speak too fast. If you go full speed straight out of the gate, it can interfere with your breathing. Speaking too fast can cause you to take short, shallow breaths, increase your heart rate and make you feel like you are running out of air, which can make you feel more anxious.
It can be helpful to practice some relaxation and breathing techniques beforehand that will help you loosen up, release some tension from your muscles and maintain a steady pace of speech.
Besides, the faster you rush through your speech or presentation, the harder it will be for your audience to follow and can only reduce the chance of them enjoying it.
Embrace New Opportunities to Speak
Don’t shy away from new opportunities to speak and embrace them whenever you can. This can be anything from being more active and involved in company meetings, offering to give more sales presentations to potential clients, to seeking out new speaking engagements if you aspire to a career as a public speaker.
Analyse your previous performances to see what worked and what didn’t. Each new speaking opportunity is a chance to reinforce what went well, as well as a chance to learn from and improve on any mistakes.
As with anything else, experience is the surest way to build confidence.
Always remember, fear of public speaking is something that the vast majority of people struggle with in some form or another, and it is almost certain that your audience will empathize even if you do get a little nervous.
So, take a few deep breaths, relax, and follow through to your success.
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Slobodan Kezunovic has an academic background in business management and marketing, but has been a lifelong student of personal development and a promoter of dealing with life’s challenges in a healthy and constructive way. Psychology and human relations have always fascinated him and have been a key driver on his own road to personal development, believing that the only way you can change the world is by changing yourself. Slobodan works as a copywriter and editor with over 7 years of experience writing sales copy and marketing content for several industries. He has been following Dr Nash Popovic’s work closely and collaborates with him as a contributor to the Personal Synthesis project, with the goal of helping people live a more prosperous and skilful life.