Does reading the title make you nervous/scared? Got that sick feeling in your stomach? The number one fear in the world, ahead of even the fear of death, is the fear of public speaking. Regardless of what some may say, the fear of public speaking is extremely common — even the most polished speakers have experienced a fear of public speaking, trust me! Being able to get over your fear of public speaking can have huge payoffs in terms of your career. Being able to speak effectively in public is a huge career draw and can almost instantly grab your boss’s attention. Employers are continually looking for employees with excellent communication skills. Think for a moment about someone you know in your workplace who is an excellent speaker. Is it your boss? Your boss’s boss? You boss’s boss’s boss? Don’t get me wrong, not all of your superiors are excellent speakers, but I’m willing to bet a good majority of them are. Having excellent public speaking skills can give your career a jump start. The following are several tips to help you get over your fear of public speaking and in turn, jump start your career.
This article is going to be more than an “imagine the audience in their underwear” guide. Although some of these tips you might consider commonsensical, they helped me get over my fear of public speaking and hopefully you can walk away with some actionable advice.
Practice your speech in front of a mirror
Deliver your speech from beginning to end in front of a full length mirror. Practicing your speech in front of a mirror is invaluable. Speaking in front of a mirror is important because every move you make is distracting. You will notice if you are swaying back and forth, you will notice if you say “um,” “ah,” and “you know,” you will notice if you are getting sweaty, and you will notice if you spit when you speak (if you’re standing close enough to the mirror). Essentially, the mirror allows you to be cognizant of the subtle distracting actions you make. “Subtle distraction actions” often are the reason a quality speech turns into a terrible speech.
Practice your speech facing a wall
Practice your speech from beginning to end facing a wall. This is the exact opposite scenario as compared to speaking in front of a mirror. Speaking in front of a wall will allow you to block out all distractions and focus exclusively on the content of your speech. You may feel silly doing this at first (I certainly did) but speaking in front of a wall will help you identify the parts of your speech that you are struggling with, in which the content is weak, or that you cannot gracefully convey to your audience. Use this as an opportunity to hammer home any part of the speech’s content that you find particularly difficult, or confusing.
Practice with a friend
You tend to be more relaxed delivering the speech to a friend. Also, a friend will hopefully be able to understand your topic, ask questions, and give honest and candid feedback. If a friend can’t adequately provide this service, find someone who can. After you finish delivering your speech, probe your friend to find out what parts of your speech were easiest to understand and what parts were most difficult.
Practice with a peer (non-friend)
Delivering your speech to a non-friend peer is useful because it adds some pressure. This will be nowhere near the same amount of pressure you will feel when actually delivering the speech. However, it will be useful because you will have the opportunity to deliver the speech under pressure. Probe your peer on the content of the speech in the same way that you would with your friend (described above).
You hate hearing yourself on your answering machine, and you will hate hearing yourself practice your speech. Recording your speech and critiquing yourself is extremely important because you will be able to identify and correct any flaws in your speech and stammers in your presentation. This is a simple tip, but very useful.
Do a dry run
If you knew the questions on a big exam ahead of time would you still be nervous about the exam? This is a bit of a stretch compared to an exam, but if at all possible, get to your venue days (or weeks if it is a really big presentation) before you have to give your speech. Practice your speech exactly as if there was an audience, this includes using the microphone. Don’t show up in flip flops and shorts if your speech will be in a tuxedo. Make your dry run as realistic as possible. The more realistic you can practice your speech before actually delivering it, the easier it will be when your big day comes.
Don’t only practice in front of your family
Your family is your best critic, which unfortunately means they will not provide you with honest feedback. Maybe your family is the exception, however, for fear of hurting your feelings, or adding unnecessary pressure, family members are rarely, if ever, suitable practice partners. If a family member insists that you practice your speech in front of them, take their advice with a grain of salt. You can’t blame your family for trying to help, but they should not be considered reliable critics.
If you haven’t caught on by now, the theme in this article is practice. Practicing your speech in various scenarios and under various conditions will make you more relaxed and reduce your feelings of anxiety when speaking publicly. Speaking publicly is no different than any other activity — practice makes perfect! Delivering your speech four to five times privately will not be fun. It will be downright annoying, and can be very time consuming depending the length of your speech. However, it will certainly be worth it. Every time you practice your speech you will notice drastic improvements in the quality of your delivery. Having a well-practiced speech will definitely curb your fear of public speaking.
What other tips do you have? How did you get over your fear of public speaking? Still scared of public speaking? Give us your opinion in the comments.