Does the thought of speaking in public terrify you? Do you get nervous and forget what you wanted to say in front of your audience? You’re not the only one! The Chapman University Survey of American Fears found that 28.4% of Americans fear public speaking, and this fear is more common than the fear of:
- Aging, etc.
The survey had no less than 1,541 American adult participants. They were asked to rate 88 fear factors from 10 different fear domains, on a scale from 1 to 4. The domains ranged from crime, disasters, and personal anxiety to government, technology, and more. The results brought public speaking on the same line with robots replacing workforce, drought, illegal immigration, grid attacks, and even global warming.
There is a huge difference between these fears, though: while it is difficult, if not impossible to stop technology, bring about rain, seal the country’s borders, or reverse global warming, it is quite easy to improve our public speaking.
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How to Cope with Your Fear and Improve Your Public Speaking
Just the fact that you acknowledge your fear of public speaking means you are one step closer to overcoming it. Now, you just need to understand your fear, relax, and take baby steps to improve your public speaking skills.
Take it from someone who wrote school plays but never found the courage to act in them, wrote award-winning essays but lost her voice when it came to reading them in front of a wide audience, wrote hundreds of poems but never found the courage to read them out loud or show them to someone else. It took me years to overcome my anxiety and find my voice, but I did, and I’ll share my recipe with you. Here are the steps you need to take:
What part of public speaking scares you the most? Are you worried you’ll forget what you have to say? Are you afraid your audience will judge you and laugh at you? Do you think your presentation is weak and will not reach its goal?
I think it’s all in your head, and the only problem is your low self-esteem. If you didn’t have what it takes, you wouldn’t be where you are. Even if your fear is justified, wouldn’t it be best to know where you stand than live wondering what might have happened?
If you follow your instincts and do your best, you will nail that presentation, and the audience will love it. If you make mistakes, you will learn from them and improve your skills and strategies. If you back down now, you’ll always regret the road not taken!
You’re causing a storm in a glass of water, and you’re only hurting yourself. It is time to take a break, relax, and gather your thoughts. If you don’t know how to do it, try the five stress-relief techniques I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Once you relieve some of the stress and relax a little, everything will seem easier and the solutions to your problems will pop-up by themselves.
I’m sure your presentation is thorough and built around valuable ideas. However, its success will depend on several features that have nothing to do with figures, ideas, or business concepts. If you want it to convince and conquer the audience, make sure your presentation is short and to the point, otherwise people will lose their patience and interest. Use a simple, straightforward, 6th grader language, to make sure everyone can understand and keep up with it.
Stick to a simple sandwich formula: benefits, costs, benefits. Start by showing your audience what they stand to gain by listening to you and giving your ideas a chance. Continue by illustrating your ideas as briefly and as clearly as possible. Don’t hesitate to use real-life examples or scenarios to prove your point, but only if they are relevant to the subject at hand. End by restating the benefits and telling your audience what they need to do in order to obtain those benefits. If you can, create a sense of urgency, give them reasons to act now rather than wait or think about it.
The more you know about your audience, the easier it will be to anticipate their reaction, and to stop considering them the enemy. Knowing their likes or dislikes can help you include jokes in your presentation, or resonate with them through strategically chosen case studies. However, don’t take everything you hear about them for granted. Remember that, at the end of the day, they are people just like you, with their own fears, projects, and hopes for the future.
It helps to personalize your presentation according to their preferences, but without compromising the features discussed at point 3. Rather than doing that, consider revealing your fear of public speaking. Judging by the findings of the survey cited above, quite a few members of your audience will share, understand, and empathize with your fear.
You shouldn’t memorize your presentation. If you do and you forget parts of it due to stage fright, you’ll be lost. Instead, make sure every word, every idea in it is yours, something you know to be true and believe in. This way, even if you forget, lose your graphics, or screw up your slideshows, you’ll be able to explain everything to your audience in your own words, answer their questions, and chase away any doubts.
I’m not saying your jitters will disappear if you practice, but you will get better at it, and your self-confidence will improve. It would surely help to practice in front of an audience, so don’t hesitate to gather your colleagues, superiors, employees, or friends and family, and ask for their help, as long as it does not mean sharing confidential information.
I believe in you, and I trust you’ll have the courage to face and overcome your fear. Perhaps things won’t work out perfectly the first time, but you’ll learn from your mistakes and get better by the day. If you could find your way to a key position that involves giving presentations, you’ll find a way to nail those presentations. When you do, let me know how the above advice worked out for you, and feel free to share any other tips and tricks in a comment. Good luck!
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