10 Tips To Get Over A Fear Of Public Speaking
By Toni Hoy
Updated December 19, 2018
Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW
What is it about public speaking? We may have no problem at all speaking to someone one-on-one, or even to a couple of people at once. Yet speaking to an entire room full of people is enough to be positively terrifying. This can be particularly problematic when you have to present a project for school or work as part of your grade or to further development on a project.
What follows is a list of 10 tips to help you overcome a fear of public speaking when simply "imagining them in their underwear" just won't do.
Tip #1: Be Prepared
The first thing anyone will tell you about public speaking is that the most important thing, right off the bat, is to make sure you are prepared. If you know the material so well that you are about to present that you don't even need to consult your cue cards, then you know you're well prepared. Notes and cue cards should be gentle reminders if you forget your place. You shouldn't need to rely on them much, if at all, and if you're well prepared, you won't have to.
You can also prepare by checking to make sure that any equipment that will be supporting your presentation is running appropriately. This includes any software you may need to use to present a slideshow, video, etc. You may also want to incorporate a mantra before you go out, like "I can do this," or "I've got this," or whatever else gets your confidence up and your juices flowing.
Tip #2: Watch Yourself In The Mirror
Sometimes it helps to see yourself how other people will see you. Watching yourself make your presentation in the mirror allows you to see the facial expressions and gestures you use, as well as how approachable you appear to others. When your expressions are calm, you will appear warmer to your audience.
Tip #3: Start With Smaller Groups.
It may help to start by practicing with smaller groups first. You may want to try family members and friends, but you may also feel like they might be biased because they know you and want you to succeed. Either way, the more experience you have speaking in front of groups, the better, whether they know you or not. And the better you may find you know your material by the time the real thing comes around.
Also, even more helpful: if members of your smaller audience have questions about your material, then it's a good bet to assume that members of the larger audience may pose the same questions. This can allow you to prepare answers to some of the tougher questions in advance, which can also help boost your confidence.
Tip #4: Do Some Light Exercise Before Speaking
In addition to improving blood flow, doing some light exercises before attempting your speech can help work off some of your nervous energy. Nothing too crazy, maybe just a walk around the block or some lunges. You don't want to be out of breath, but you do want to feel less nervous and more focused.
Tip #5: Be Careful With Your PowerPoint
PowerPoint slides can be a nice addition to a speech, but there is a right and a wrong way to do it. Some folks put so much material on their slides that they might as well just encourage the audience to read off of the slides entirely. The trick to a good PowerPoint presentation is for it to complement the speech, not overtake it. Research ways to create a good PowerPoint presentation so that you don't inadvertently bring your speech down with a clunky slideshow.
Tip #6: Make Your Speech Something You're Passionate About
This may not always translate well to a school or work presentation, but even so, you can always find ways to make your speech about a topic you're passionate about. In the case of a school project, chances are you were offered a list of topics from which to choose the one that most appealed to you to make a speech about. Why did you choose this topic? What about it spoke to you? Harness that interest and make it a passion - even if only temporarily.
If it's a working speech, is it a speech you're giving on a project that meant something to you, and that you feel like you did some of your best work on? Translate that pride and interest in your speech. Ultimately, your speech should:
- Show how the topic at hand affected you
- Express your desire to share this topic with other people
- Reflect how you feel your audience could benefit from learning about this topic
- Bespoken about with passion
When you deeply care about your subject, you will inspire your audience to care about it just as deeply. Think TED Talks.
Tip #7: Don't Memorize Your Speech
It may be tempting to memorize your speech, so you don't flub up in front of a large group of people, but this only makes you sound more mechanical. Knowing your material means knowing the key points, sub-topics, and examples or anecdotes you want to touch upon, and then fluffing it out from there. Plus, you will be less likely to be thrown off guard if the audience finds one of your jokes particularly funny, or if someone asks a tough question.
Tip #8: Be Human
Have you ever wondered why musicians often take a break from their sets to chat with the audience, to give them some background or history on why they wrote that particular song? This is a way of humanizing themselves and be more relatable to their fans. By allowing yourself to become vulnerable, you become more human, and this helps to foster a deeper connection with your audience than if you were just a talking head, standing up on a stage and lecturing to them.
If people wanted to learn something new, and that's all they wanted from experience, they'd crack open a book. The reason they want to hear you talk about it is that they're hoping to gain that human connection that can't be made with a book.
Consider, again, the TED Talks. What makes these talks so enjoyable is the people delivering them. Sometimes they're funny. Sometimes they pull on your heartstrings. But ultimately, they're human, and you can truly feel a connection with most, if not all, of the presenters that give one of those talks. That's the connection you should be aiming for with your audience.
Tip #9: Focus On The Material, Not The Audience
Have you ever watched a comedian or another entertainer keep on with their set, not even missing a beat, after someone in the audience yells something out, or a waitress drops a tray? Sometimes they'll acknowledge it, but most of the time they'll keep right on going. This is because they focus on the material, rather than the audience. It may seem heartless at first, but it's actually how they stay focused and, quite possibly, how they avoid stage fright.
When you're up there, your chief concern is to make sure you are delivering your material in the most effective way possible. You should not let your audience detract from that in any way. This way, you also avoid misinterpreting your audience's reactions.
Yes, that girl in the front row may be yawning, but it may not have anything to do with your topic or how you're presenting it. Maybe she's a new mom or a cramming student, and she barely got any sleep last night. Maybe that guy in the second row was checking his phone, but it's because his mom's in the hospital, and he's making sure he didn't miss a call with an update. It's very easy to misinterpret signals like this as signs that you or your presentation is boring, but that may not be it at all. By not focusing on these things, you can prevent unwarranted stress.
Tip #10: Learn To Harness That Nervous Energy.
As mentioned earlier, you can always work in some light exercise before your speech to work off some of that nervous energy. Another nervous tick some people do is talk quickly during their speech - perhaps in the hopes that the faster they talk, the sooner, the speech will be over. However, talking fast forces you to take fewer breaths, and feeling short of breath will make you more likely to panic and feel even more scared. Slowing down your speech will force you to relax.
You can also put nervous energy to good use by transforming it into a passion for the topic you're presenting. It may appear to your audience that you love the topic so much that you are presenting it with gusto when, in reality, while it's true that you may love the topic, you're trying to hide the fact that you're a nervous wreck. And what do they always say? Fake it 'til you make it? You may just find that if you stick with that "passionate" response, your fear may just melt into legitimate excitement for your topic.
Interested in learning some more tips on how to face your fears when it comes to public speaking? Our licensed counselors can help.