Conquering Your Public Speaking Fears

By Jamie Davidson · February 27, 2019

More people are afraid of public speaking than dying

ACTUALLY DYING! Comedian Jerry Seinfeld jokes that most of us would rather be inside the coffin than forced to give a funeral eulogy. Ironically, it’s the avoidance of being six feet under that prompts glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. This real phenomenon is rooted in our primal need to feel safe within a group. The anxiety of being rejected and ostracized from our group, left only to be eaten by wild animals lingers today in our modern, non-paleo minds. It rears its head when we rise to address an audience. Fear of public speaking is, in reality, a fear of rejection.

On a less caveman-like level, there are myriad additional reasons we dread getting up in front of an audience. Insecurity, fear of failure, unrealistic pressure, and imposter syndrome are just a few. The size of the audience doesn’t matter.

Fear of public speaking is the professional world’s public enemy #1

Even highly successful business magnate Warren Buffett was once terrified of speaking in front of others. Buffett, who built his career, and his fortune on knowing worth when he sees it, advised Columbia University (Go Lions!) business students that “you can improve your value by 50 percent just by learning communication skills–public speaking.” I don’t know about you, but I’m inclined to do whatever Mr. Warren “$80 Billion Dollar” Buffett suggests.

Being able to speak confidently in a business setting will bring you pride in your work. Moreover, it will present you as a knowledgeable thought leader. Someone whom colleagues respect and clients want to work with. Fortunately, there are a number of tangible tips that you can use to help overcome your fears of speaking in public. This article will lay out strategies to conquer this common phobia and help grow your career. By preparing, practicing, and shifting your perspective you will soon be able to get up in front of others and speak clearly and confidently. Without further ado, let’s take a look at why oratory skills are essential in the professional world. The six tips you can use to feel more at ease when speaking in front of a group.

Why Public Speaking is Essential for Career Success

The professional world is increasingly dependent on technology. This makes for a large portion if not all of our workday spent behind some type of screen. However, the ability to get ahead career-wise still revolves around being seen and heard. This may be the one time when the phrase, “don’t tell me, show me” does not apply. When it comes to our professional lives, we must effectively communicate our ideas, persuade our clients, and share information with our colleagues. Communicating with confidence takes place in a multitude of scenarios: client presentations, pitches, internal reviews, and video conferences to name just a few.

Speaking of video, with the use of video conferencing becoming a more favored communication practice in many offices. It may feel like there’s no place left to hide. Instead of fearing video communication use it to your advantage. A video conference is a great way to strut your stuff and impress colleagues and clients alike with the clear communication of your knowledge and know-how. Presentation skills are essential in almost any role, whether for internal or external audiences. Don’t worry if you aren’t a pro speaker yet. Whoever said “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” must not believe in the power of improvement. Developing a skill such as public speaking is a sure-fire way to get noticed for your dedication and show how far you have progressed at your job.

What You Can Do to Overcome Fear

1. Practice confidence in your daily life

Fortunately, while the fear of speaking in public is extremely common, there are a number of tips you can try to make the experience more comfortable. A great place to start is by finding ways to practice confidence in your daily life. That confidence will then will rub off on your public speaking persona.

Start with one-on-one interactions. Strike up a conversation with someone you regularly wouldn’t speak to. Chat with a colleague in the elevator, your Uber driver, or a front desk attendant. Remember that virtually every conversation you have with other people during the course of your busy day will be an opportunity to practice speaking and sharing information. Keep this one-on-one discourse in mind when speaking to a larger group. Focus on one person in the audience. Share your presentation with them replicating the casual nature of a one-on-one conversation. Soon making a presentation at work will no longer be as frightening regardless of the number of audience members.

2. Be Prepared

Those Boy Scouts must have known a thing or two about successful public speaking. There’s nothing more nerve-racking than going into a meeting or presentation unprepared. Your lack of prep will always show through. Your one job is to be the foremost authority on your topic. But, you can’t share what you don’t know. Many of us leave our collegiate study practices behind once we graduate. However, by planning for a professional presentation similar to the way you studied for an exam in school will guarantee that you know all the material necessary to feel self-assured in your expertise and knowledge.

3. Rehearse

Rehearsing isn’t just for actors. What great presenters don’t show you is the amount of rehearsal time put into their act before it’s ready to share with the world. Talking into the mirror may feel silly. But practicing out loud when no one is watching is the best way to create “muscle memory” for your content. If you find it strange to look at yourself practicing, share your presentation with Fido. Sounds weird, but take advantage of the captive audience.

As a next step, take your rehearsal out of the bathroom and into the boardroom. There may be no better advice for successful oration than the TedX Speaker Guide. Step 5 of the guide is Rehearse. Look at how many times they stress the repetition of your presentation content. Nine times in one paragraph!

“Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! We can’t stress this enough. Rehearse until you’re completely comfortable in front of other people: different groups of people, people you love, people you fear, small groups, large groups, peers, people who aren’t experts in your field. Listen to the criticisms and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If someone says you sound “over-rehearsed,” this actually means you sound stilted and unnatural. Keep rehearsing, and focus on talking like you’re speaking to just one person in a spontaneous one-way conversation.”

4. Control outside variables

Now that you are comfortable with your content you need to familiarize yourself with the room – be it physical or virtual. Take steps to familiarize yourself with the setting of your presentation. Speaking on a stage will feel much different than presenting in a small room or via a video conference. Adjust your style and approach to the venue. Know in advance if you have room to walk around or if you have to stay in one spot. Test how near or far away from the camera you should be for optimal visibility and volume.

Additionally, you don’t want to be caught off guard by a rogue audience member or be put on the spot unable to answer a question you haven’t accounted for. If a Q&A session is planned for after your talk, ask a colleague to quiz you on some key points and practice your responses until you feel confident that you can field any question that comes your way. Another way to manage questions is to anticipate potential queries and preemptively incorporate the answers in your presentation. You can’t provide a wrong answer that isn’t asked.

5. Shift your mindset

An effective way to overcome your fears of public speaking is to shift your perspective about the entire experience. Instead of feeling nervous about being evaluated during your upcoming talk, remind yourself that you are providing your audience with valuable information that they are eager to know. It’s not a test and no one is there to judge you.

6. Ask for help

If you are serious about taking your public speaking skills to the next level there are professional methodologies and courses available to you. One tact is exposure therapy. Exposure therapy employs the basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to change your perception of a fear or phobia by gradually experiencing the activity and associating positive outcomes.

If you would like a bit more instruction and real-world guidance there are many professional programs that can help you develop your public speaking skills. To highlight two: Toastmasters, which has been training speakers since 1924 offers to help “develop and practice communication and leadership skills in the safe, supportive environment” and this public speaking online course from edX, the global online learning community founded by Harvard University and MIT, is “designed to equip you with knowledge of the principles necessary for formal public speaking with an emphasis on organization, evidence, language use, strategy, delivery, ethics, and effective use of media aids.”

Last Minute Pointers

Don’t forget to breathe. If you are concerned that your voice will be shaky, consider doing some deep breathing exercises prior to the presentation. And, slow it down. I’m a speed talker so I have to consciously speak at a pace which I think sounds like a vinyl record playing at 33 RPMs when in actuality my cadence sounds ideal to my audience.

“Sing Out, Louise!”

You are talented and skilled and are an asset to your company, so don’t sell yourself short by avoiding or mismanaging the opportunity to show off your subject expertise and your public speaking abilities. Work through these six public speaking tips and you will soon be a more confident and capable public speaker at the top of the professional pack. Who knows, you might even look forward to those public speaking opportunities and wowing the crowd with your knowledge!

Do you have tips that have helped you in the past? Share with us what helps you give a killer presentation or public speech on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.


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