People fear public speaking more than death. No one wants to make an embarrassing mistake—especially with rows of faces watching. Sure it can get your heart racing and your palms sweaty, but that doesn’t mean your fear has to stop you. As author Brene Brown says, Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It may be difficult to overcome your fear of public speaking, but isn’t it worth it if you can help people by sharing your knowledge?
As an owner of a digital marketing and publicity company, I am often asked to speak about publishing, marketing and entrepreneurial topics. It doesn’t matter if I am part of a panel of speakers, getting interviewed by the media, or behind a podium alone, feeling nervous is normal. And here’s the best part: The more I speak, the easier it is to speak. And, the more I speak, the more I want to keep doing it. Public speaking can really be a lot of fun. I hope these seven tips can help you conquer your fear of public speaking.
1. Just be who you are.
“When I was in 10th grade I took a speech class. I thought because of my accent I would be terrible. I went to the teacher and told him I was really nervous. Hoping he would reassure me, instead he said, “You should be. The more nervous you are, the better you will prepare.” That was my first speech and I got the highest grade in the class. Yes, I had an accent, but I discovered that I had the ability to speak clearly and connect with audience. The audience in this case was a class of 10th graders in a public High School in Queens, NY. There is not a tougher crowd in the world and that class and those students provided the best boot camp for me. They taught me a valuable lesson early on that it was Ok to be me. Give yourself permission to be who you are. You can admire other speakers, but don’t try and be like them. Be you. You will connect with people if you show up authentically.
2. To compensate for being nervous, prepare.
You should know your topic so well you can talk about it all day. The more you feel prepared, the less nervous you will feel. When you are an expert on your subject matter, your mind transitions away from nerves and to thoughts like: I can do this. I’ve got this. I know this topic cold. Prepare by organizing what you are going to say, incorporating a story or two, outlining your talking points and having smooth transitions from one point to the next. Yes, you can practice your speech in front of a mirror, but it’s better to try it in front of live people—so grab your spouse, friend or mom for a dress rehearsal. You also can prepare by filming yourself or recording yourself so you can see what improvements you’d like to make and ensure that you are talking at a conversational pace and the flow of your talk works well.
3. Prepare but don’t memorize.
Just like those wonderful one-on-one conversations you have with friends or family, you want your talk or speech to feel natural. Avoid word for word memorization or reading to your audience. Remember key points of your speech and then talk and share stories. Make your talk a two-way interaction with audience participation or questions so your audience feels included and you can speak with ease.
4. Talk to one or two people.
I try and focus on one or two receptive people in the audience and pretend I am only talking to them. I glance everywhere of course, but mentally, I am only talking to those two friendly faces in the audience. It’s a technique that makes my talks a lot easier and more conversational.
5. Be okay with nerves.
The one thing that can make you overly nervous and trigger your fight or flight response is thinking that you need to be completely calm to deliver a wonderful speech or talk. You don’t have to get over your fear before you start speaking. It’s okay to be nervous. Even professional speakers get nervous or jittery before a big presentation, but they don’t let it stop them. If you get any of the signs of nerves including a rapid heartbeat, blushing, sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, shaky hands or dizziness, know that your symptoms and your state of panic will not last. It’s better to just know and accept that you may be nervous. Maybe you will get into a panic, but you can talk yourself down from it. Give yourself permission to be nervous for the first sentence. Soon you will transition into what you have to say and you will stop focusing on your fears.
6. Start small.
You can start with your mom or best friend and work up from there. Then speak to small groups until you find your rhythm. Find business organizations, networks and clubs in your area (like Toastmasters) that can afford you the opportunity to practice. And then you can move on to larger groups. Most speakers who start small soon realize that the size of the audience isn’t relevant, the most important thing is to be an expert on the topic you are speaking about.
7. Fake it until you make it.
For the most part, audience members can’t see how nervous you are, so smile, have good posture and exude confidence even if you aren’t feeling it in the moment. If you have stand confidently, look at your audience, and own your place at the podium or microphone, your brain will follow and you will start to feel confident too. The right body language can really get your brain to follow along too. Now you can focus on what you have to say and not on how you will come across.
Try showing up and being seen. The only way to chip away at your fear of public speaking is to operate as if you don’t have it. Put another way, you have to power through it to gain a sense of personal empowerment. Visualize a positive outcome and soon your fear won’t be stopping you from making a difference in other people’s lives.
© 2015 Fauzia Burke. All Rights Reserved.
Fauzia Burke is the Founder and President of FSB Associates, a digital publicity and marketing firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors. A nationally-recognized speaker and digital branding expert, Fauzia writes regularly for Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com and MindBodyGreen. For online publicity, book publishing and social media news, follow Fauzia on Facebook and Twitter. To talk with FSB and ask publicity questions about your book, please join us FSB on Twitter and Facebook.