If the thought of public speaking makes you break into a cold sweat, you’re not alone.
Surveys show that the fear of public speaking ranks as one of the most common phobias. In fact, a pronounced fear of public speaking is even more common than the fear of death!
While I used to rank amongst those who would rather pass when it came to taking to the podium, I was recently asked to speak at “Emerging Leaders Tap'd In” -- an event sponsored by United Way. It was a great opportunity, and something I couldn’t miss.
Although taking to the stage can be daunting, the fact is that most of us would do well to brush up on our public speaking skills. Whether it’s on stage or in the boardroom, the ability to give a well-presented talk is crucial. A number of studies indicate that speaking may even be more important to job success than technical skills.
Public speaking can also benefit your personal brand. It can help to build your reputation and cement you as a thought leader in your industry. Public speaking engagements can be a great way to bring in new business, broaden your network and can also open the door for mentorship opportunities, giving you the chance to directly influence others and make a difference.
On a personal level, public speaking is a tremendous confidence booster. It can deliver as much of a rush as skydiving!
Giving my speech was a great experience, and along the way I learned a thing or two. I’m still a work in progress, but here are a few tips that helped me feel more confident when speaking. Hopefully, they can help you beat the fear of public speaking, too.
It may sound obvious, but don’t wait until you hit the stage to get things together. Take some time to know your audience, and get all of your notes together before your big day. When preparing for his legendary presentations, Steve Jobs would spend days rehearsing and getting feedback. Write your material, read your notes and practice.
2. Understand your fears.
Matt Haughty, founder of MetaFilter, offers an excellent piece of public speaking advice: understand your fears, and recognize the biology behind them. It’s important to recognize that it’s normal to feel anxiety when there are hundreds of eyes on you. After all, if you're in the wild, and there’s a pack of eyes on you, you’re in trouble. Instead of going with your fears, tell yourself that those eyes don’t symbolize trouble, but just that a group is there to learn from you. You’ll be OK.
3. Loosen up.
Before taking to the stage, loosen up. Go out with friends, listen to music or watch some comedy. Whatever it takes to help you relax and get revved up. Music especially has been shown to have a profound physiological effect on us, and listening to some high-energy tunes can help you to get psyched up and motivated.
4. Be human.
Don’t feel like you need to put yourself on a level above your audience to be taken seriously. You’ll connect better if you let your humanness show. Tell personal stories, be real and let the audience in on your emotions.
5. Tell a joke.
This isn’t to say that your entire speech needs to be a comedy routine, but telling some light-hearted jokes and adding in some humor throughout your talk can help to engage the audience and lighten the mood. Although this should go without saying, you should never make a joke at the expense of someone in the audience. You’ll lose respect if you attempt to go this route.
6. Keep it light.
You shouldn’t try to instruct your audience with your tremendous wealth of infinite wisdom -- they’ll get bored and you’ll lose them. Instead, keep things short and sweet. Focus on distilling your lessons into two or three points. Teach them through examples, anecdotes and easily digestible tidbits. It’ll be more fun for you -- and them.
Taking deep breaths can help calm your nerves, so pause and breathe deeply after you make a point. Pausing for a few seconds also shows the audience that you’re confident and not rushing your material.
8. Don’t try to sell something.
There’s enough pressure when you’re on the stage. The last thing you’ll want to be doing is trying to sell something. It’s not clever and it’s not polite. Your presence on stage is enough publicity for the moment. Don’t try to slip a sales pitch in -- you’ll only regret it.
9. Don’t fear your audience.
Don’t fear the crowd. That's easier said than done, but when it comes down to it, giving a speech is basically like having a group conversation, but with a few more people, and of course, you’re the only one talking. The fact is that most of the crowd will be rooting for you anyway. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there, so you’re in good company.
10. Be willing to make some mistakes.
There’s no shame in making mistakes as you learn. Your first speech is just that -- your first, so don’t worry if you’re not talking like a seasoned pro. You’ll get better in time. Just remember: we are our own worst critics. You may not notice (or remember) the mistakes that other speakers make, but you can be sure that they notice them. If you’re not willing to make mistakes, you won’t be able to improve.
Remember, a great speaker isn’t perfect by any means, but they are passionate about their messages and are able to convey that passion to their audiences.
Don’t worry about being the best speaker of the night. Instead, focus on your enthusiasm and your drive. Think on the purpose behind your speech. Channel some of that into your message, and you’ll give a powerful talk.