Fear of public speaking ranks extremely high for most people. Experts say that it is feared even more than death! It’s easy to assume that you are not very good at it when, in fact, the problem is caused less by your ability to speak and more by your fear of speaking. Once you break that barrier of fear, you may find out that you’re pretty darn good at it. Not only that, you might even love it! As someone who broke that very barrier, I understand this fear intimately. Here are three steps to get you started in your journey.
What is this fear stopping you from doing? If you can figure this out, then your motivation for overcoming it will increase. Is the fear preventing you from speaking up in meetings or in the class room? Do you feel awkward at social gatherings? Do you choose your courses at school based on whether or not there are presentations to do? I sure did! All of that applied to me. I got sick of being afraid. Everyone else seemed to be having so much more fun doing things that made my stomach churn knots.
Probably the most popular group is Toastmasters International. It is a wonderful environment full of encouragement. Sure it’s nerve-wracking! Sure your palms will get sweaty! Heck, I even cried during my first speech! I completed the Competent Communicator Award which entails doing 10 very specific types of speeches. The order of the speeches was well thought out. The first one is just about introducing yourself to the group. By the time you get to the last one, you are using effective gestures and visual aids. You might have even entered a contest or two by then! I can’t tell you how liberating it felt to finally break that barrier. I enjoy public speaking more than I ever thought possible. No, it didn’t turn me into an extrovert, but my inner world was finally ready to be shown to the outer world. Should you decide you want to take speaking to a deeper level, there are many options for growth at Toastmasters.
Realize that you are afraid because you care. It’s OK to have butterflies. It’s OK to have sweaty palms. You respect the task at hand and you care about doing a good job. That’s great! People can feel that you care. They can also tell if you don’t care. When you do care, people want to hear what you have to say. I honestly used to think that people didn’t want to hear what I had to say, so I would rush through my speech. I learned that I had valuable information to share that people wanted to hear! Once you truly believe that what you have to share has value, your speaking will improve dramatically. The more practice you have with public speaking, the better you will become at controlling those fearful feelings. You’ll be able to use them in a more positive, productive manner that will actually fuel you.
When you truly understand a topic, it is easier to focus on getting the idea across rather than trying to remember something word for word. Being able to ad-lib gives you some freedom with your words. This also lowers your anxiety. If you must talk about something out of your comfort zone, research your topic well. Try to relate it to something in your life so it becomes easier to talk about.
Public speaking is a skill that can be learned. It can also be forgotten, just like other types of skills. Once you break that barrier, keep yourself tuned up by either continuing with your speaking group or actively seeking out reasons to speak in public.
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