Strengthen your speaking savvy
“Surveys show that the #1 fear of Americans is public speaking. Death is #2. That means that at a funeral, the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
– Jerry Seinfeld
Do you cringe at the very thought of having to speak in front of a group of people? You’re not alone. Surveys show that for many of us, public speaking is in fact public enemy #1. But there are ways to make this fear disappear for good and give you the confidence you need when speaking in public.
Think of when you’ve had to make a speech or a presentation to a group of people – what happens to you before you step up to the podium? Increased heart rate, shaky hands and dry mouth?
And for some, it goes from bad to worse. You start to speak and your heart continues to beat rapidly. You may even hear your voice quiver. Some are fortunate enough to calm down once they get into the flow of the speech, but others may start rambling and stumbling over their words and… well, need I say more?
There are several ways to reduce public speaking anxiety, but the first and foremost thing to remember is to BE PREPARED. This means giving yourself ample time to prepare your material and become comfortable with it.
Leave nothing to chance. Always have a contingency plan should any problem arise. You don’t want to step up to give your presentation and find that your power point doesn’t work or you can’t find your cue cards.
Know your material. Familiarize yourself as much as you can on your topic. You don’t need to memorize every single sentence, but be sure to have a strong outline of the facts and your speech on hand as a prompt.
Take note of your environment. It is always a good idea to find out beforehand where exactly you will be giving the presentation. Board room? Auditorium? Also, find out where you will stand and if there is a podium or not. Knowing all these things will ensure that there are no surprises the day of the speech.
Know your audience. Understanding your audience will allow you to mold you presentation to their particular interests and tastes. If you are speaking to a group of schoolchildren, your tone and content would obviously be different than it would be for a group of business associates.
Practice makes perfect. It’s that simple. Practice, practice, practice. Even if you know what you are planning to say, you may forget important points once you get up there.
Use a mirror. If you practice in front of a mirror you’ll be able to see what you look like while giving the presentation, and if you have any nervous ticks that you need to get rid of. Another trick is to record yourself, either on tape or video. Seeing yourself, or hearing yourself will enable you to work on any weaknesses you may have.
Rehearse in front of friends. Try practicing in front of friends or family beforehand. Just make sure they are people that will give you constructive criticism, not criticism that will put you down or make you feel even more nervous.
Remember that the audience is rooting for you. For many, anxiety about public speaking anxiety in rooted in the fear of making a mistake and having people laugh or think less of them. In actuality the audience, especially if made up of your peers, is rooting for you to do well.
Take a long, deep breath and relax before you start your presentation. On the morning of your big day, eat a good meal and even take a walk or visit the gym. This will help to reduce stress and enable you to concentrate on the task at hand.
Visualize. Lastly, before you get ready to make your speech, visualize yourself giving a well-received speech. If you picture yourself looking cool and composed, you are more likely to succeed. Conversely, if you see yourself faltering, there is more of a chance that you will.
Toastmasters is a not-for-profit organization focused on developing public speaking and leadership skills. They have been teaching members how to become more comfortable speaking in front of audiences since 1924. There are over 11,000 clubs in 90 different countries.
During a toastmasters meeting, you will ‘learn by doing.’ Members will learn to hone their public speaking in leadership skills in an inviting and friendly atmosphere. Meetings usually contain 20-40 members who work together to build confidence and practice public speaking techniques.
To learn more, or find a club near you, visit toastmasters.org