While we can never truly eliminate the fear of public speaking, we can take some basic steps to reduce that feeling of anxiety and channel nervous energy into our presentation in a positive way.
“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
The key to reducing the fear of speaking is preparation. You don’t want to wing it. Be clear on what message you want your audience to take away, prepare your key points to communicate that message and practice your opening and closing.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
~ Ken Blanchard
There are three kinds of feedback you can get for your speech: Your own through video recordings, from colleagues, friends, and family, and from your audience. In the spirit of preparation, however, only the first two matter. Before you give your presentation to your intended audience, practice in front of a video camera. Then watch yourself and pay attention to what both looks and sounds good. Figure out how it can be made better, then try again.
If you have the time and the opportunity, present your speech in front of colleagues, friends or family, and then ask them what worked and what didn’t. Often what we think looks or sounds a certain way is perceived differently by others. This kind of feedback is invaluable.
3. Watch Your Voice
“You better own the room. You better own the audience. You got to own the show. And your voice is a huge, key part of that.”
~ Bob Bevard
When you are watching the video recording of yourself, pay attention to your voice. Don’t let a weak voice betray your nervousness. A soft voice sounds apprehensive. Speak louder than you would in a one-to-one conversation, but don’t shout. Shouting rarely works on stage, but a strong voice draws instant attention and gives you credibility.
“Most people use their throat or their vocal folds,” says Featured Speaker Nancy Daniels. She recommends using your chest to power your sound. This means breathe from the diaphragm.
4. Watch Your Eyes
“Eye contact is way more intimate than words will ever be.”
~ Faraaz Kazi
Use your eyes when you speak. Make eye contact with your audience, one person at a time. Don’t stare at the ceiling or the floor. Look random people in the eye and hold them for 3 to 5 seconds each. This can take practice. If it makes you to nervous, you can look at the point between their eyes, the tip of their nose or just above the eyes. This is kind of like eye-contact training wheels. Again, use your family and friends.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Pause
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
~ Mark Twain
A nervous speaker tends to rush and fill the spaces between their planned words with filler words, such as um, ah and you know. This not only gives away a speaker’s anxiety, but it can ruin wonderful opportunities to make an audience think about a point that was just made. If your mind goes blank, just pause and collect your thoughts. There is power in silence. Use it to let a point sink in, or make a transition to a new thought.
6. Learn How to Use Notes
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
~ Benjamin Spock
Prepare your notes using just key or “trigger” words. You should be speaking on content that you are familiar with — so it’s enough to just talk about what you already know. The key words simply guide you to the next thought.
Never write a speech out word for word and try to memorize it. A speech written out is a train ready to get derailed. Fear and anxiety will cause you to forget a word or sentence and then your brain loses the pattern. It rarely works.
Instead, use the key words to remind you of what to say next and then just speak from your heart. Your audience does not know your speech and won’t know you made a mistake unless you tell them.
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