Before I get to the answer, which you may not like if you’re trying to get over your fear of public speaking, is share some of the insights I discovered along the way.
Know your content
The best way to beat the nerves is to know inside and out the content you’re presenting. If you know what you’re talking about then you’re less likely to waffle. It helps if you’re presenting a consistent set of slides, because the more you do it, the easier it’ll become.
At my first wedding I completely froze because I didn’t have notes. In my head I wanted to thank everybody present but instead I got overwhelmed by the faces and I struck a complete blank – and nobody could help me because nothing was written down.
Structure your appearances
I found that my comfort levels were determined by the audience present, so it made it easier to structure the events beginning with the smallest and easiest audience and working my way up to the big intimidating professionals, academics and business owners (family and in-laws). It helped me refine the pitch to the appropriate levels (each audience wants to know something different)
Practice makes perfect. A less intimidating first few audiences will help you refine your presentation so you don’t go into the big one, cold.
There are people who watch presenters with blank, starey-eyes, frowns and all round terrifying. Find the friendly faces, a few in the front, middle and back. Remember to look at them, scan the people around them. It makes it so much easier to talk to someone who’s giving you positive body language and see it as a group consensus — you can almost relax.
I went on a camera presentations course many moons ago and body language is vital. I found that instead of focusing on all the itty bitty details (hands in pockets, over mouth etc.) that to give my body the chance to respond more naturally by talking to the faces I already knew. If you’re presenting to strangers, surely there are people in the audience with whom you can identify that you could talk to as if you knew them, that way you fool your mind and loosen up your body language at a more organic level.
Instead of worrying about whether you’re going to stumble, set yourself some mental tasks. While you’re waiting to talk – take a look at the audience and try to see them as regular ordinary people… and while you’re introducing yourself, make eye contact with the friendly faces you scanned for earlier and focus on them throughout.
Before you step out onto that podium, take quick mental stock of everything you ever achieved in your life that made you feel happy and proud, see it gathered up in an invisible circle before you and step into it. Remember that you are successful and they do want to hear what you have to say.
You don’t need everyone to like you, but treat the ones that do with interest and appreciate their input and it’ll catch on.
The cure for fearing public speaking is speak publicly. Practice talking to groups of friends, colleagues etc. work your way up to the stage and podium but you’re never going to combat your fear by avoiding the task. Think about the absolute worst that could happen… and then think about waking up the next morning, following week.
Watch a lot of TED videos – you’ve got a world of fantastic public speakers to inspire you and it’s totally free and better than TV.
If you think of anything else that may inspire others, please leave a comment below.