Your fear of public speaking

Yikes! You have to make a speech. But overcoming your fear of public speaking -- and everybody has some fear of public speaking -- is a process. Don't let the prospect of an upcoming speech leave you frozen. Overcoming your fear of public speaking is achievable with a little forethought, practice and experience. 

Man at podium perspiring as he prepares to speak.Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

You've heard this cliché that goes back to Jerry Seinfield: People who give eulogies at funerals would rather be in the casket than in front of the audience. That time-worn saying speaks to the fundamental fear many people have of public speaking.

Here are some planning tips to help you in overcoming your fear of public speaking so that you speak with confidence when you get in front of others.

Dealing with your fear of public speaking

Perhaps you have to make a presentation, say a few words at an anniversary or retirement party or convince others to support your idea. How much time do you have until the event arrives?  The more the better, so don't let your public speaking fear make you procrastinate. Start your prep as soon as you know you're going to have to speak. 

Remember that business adage -- proper preparation prevents poor performance. The preparation is what will lay the groundwork for you to overcome your fear of speaking in front of others.

Here are three tips to get you started:

  1. Write down the central message you want your audience to walk away with. Perhaps it is that Joe rose to the occasion and made a real difference in the success of the company. Or maybe Jane is the one people turn to when they feel overwhelmed. A short sentence that helps you describe your message will clarify your ideas.

2.  Create an outline of how you want your speech to progress.  You might do it the old-fashioned way by focusing on the structure. Or you can try mind-mapping in which you just write down everything that occurs to you about your topic without editing it at first.  Then organize your thoughts.

example of mindmapMind mapping is a way to gather ideas quickly by just writing down thoughts as they occur to you and then figuring out how they relate to each other. (Image from Pixabay)

3.  Think about the time limit you have and some stories to include. Once you have these steps taken care of, you'll be ready to prepare a speech that will add to the occasion . . . and to your confidence.

Have a written copy or outline available

A preacher friend once told me he always has a printed copy of the Apostles' Creed  on the podium even though he's led it a thousand times. It's a smart rescue strategy when public speaking fear causes your mind to go blank.  Having notes or a script to refer to eliminates the possibility that you'll end up wondering what to say when you have an attack of brain fog. Nervousness in public speaking can cause your mind to go blank. So have a rescue plan -- in other words, a written copy in case you need it.

Practice, practice, practice

Don't underestimate how important practice is to overcoming your public speaking fear. Professional speakers at the top of their game rehearse their talk dozens of times. By the time they get to the podium, they know their talk so well that they are just having a conversation with the folks who are listening.  You want to share your message with the audience . . . not just read to them. (See tips for ways to engage your audience.)

It's also important to practice out loud.  If you rehearse your speech by just mentally going over it, you might think your delivery is flawless. We are always eloquent in our minds. But speaking out loud allows you to catch those wording traps and tongue twisters so you can do a rewrite to smooth out sentences and phrases that can  make your words glum together when said out loud.

Deep breathing can relieve tension

Doing focused inhales and exhales where you count slowly on allow your exhale to last twice as many seconds as your inhale is a yoga technique that eliminates tension from the body. Even if you do not practice yoga, you can get the benefits of reduced anxiety from focusing on your breathing in a systematic way before you take the stage.

There are other breathing exercises you can do to help you overcome your nervousness in public speaking before a speech.

Remember, your audience wants you to succeed

You have a message your audience wants to hear. They have chosen to give up their time to listen to you and that means they want to be there. Embrace the positive aspirations that you and your audience share. And when you start out, look for a friendly face or two to focus on until you get going.

If your talk is on a controversial topic, acknowledge that there are people who may have opposing ideas and express your appreciation for their willingness to come together to learn more about the issue you are addressing.