Fear of public speaking is extremely common. Even the most experienced speakers get nervous. Many beginning speakers are completely overcome with panic and anxiety. This one issue prevents more people from reaching their goal to be an effective speaker than any other in my opinion.
Overcoming this fear and panic is key to successfully communicating from in front of the room. If you do not appear confident to your audience, your audience will not likely feel confident in what you have to say. Recent research on mirror neurons suggests that we "we subconsciously put ourselves in the shoes of the person we’re observing and, accounting for relevant differences, imagine what we would desire and believe in that scenario". If the audience senses your lack of confidence, many may infer the cause is that you do not believe in your own message. This can seriously undermine your message and chances for success.
Here are five ways to overcome your fear of public speaking -
- Be a Boy Scout – The Boy Scouts motto is "Be Prepared". This is the most obvious method to overcome your fear. As I wrote in the Six Rs of Communication, it is essential to have a well defined result for both you and your audience. Answer the question "What’s in it for me?" for both you and the audience. Use this answer to guide you in your preparation of your visuals and remarks. After you have created a crystal clear RESULT for your presentation, it is much easier to create your opening and closing, choose your main points, and build your content. Your result is what you want your audience to conclude (and act upon) when you are done. When you start at the conclusion, it is a much simpler task to create your opening, main points, and then tie everything back into that conclusion.
You (and your audience) are much more likely to reach your destination if you know exactly where you are going. With a clear picture in your mind of both your destination and the route to reach that destination, you are much more likely to feel confident. If you do not know exactly where you are going or how to get there, fear of getting lost (and looking foolish or unprepared) is much more likely.
2. Own the Room – Prior to your scheduled time to speak, make sure to find time to survey the room where your session will take place. Verify where you can stand and walk, and where you cannot. If you plan to use a flip chart or white board, make sure you know where the markers (and erasers) are. If there is a projector and your are showing Powerpoint slides, test the projector with your laptop. Ensure your your screen resolution works with the projector. Verify you can power on the projector and project your slides on the screen. If you will be using a microphone, ensure it works and that you know how to power it on and off. Do a sound check (especially if there is an AV crew present). The goal here is to eliminate as many surprises as possible. Ensure that you feel comfortable in the space where you have to speak so that you are not distracted by the environment.
3. Work the Room - Whenever possible you should try to meet as many members of the audience as possible. Meet and greet people who will be in the audience and dig down into why there are attending the session. Make sure you really understand their answer to the all important question "What’s in It for Me?". The primary goal here is to have as many friendly faces as possible in the audience. Remove the fear of speaking in front of strangers by minimizing the number of strangers.
As you become more experienced, this technique can help you take your presentations to the next level. Probe for back ground stories that you can use a part of your session. One or two well told stories that are specifically relevant to the audience will increase both your credibility and rapport with the audience.
4. Breathe like a baby – If you follow the first three tips, your anxiety and fear of public speaking should be greatly reduced. You may still get last minute jitters. I have given well over 700 presentations and I still get jitters. This next technique helps me eliminate those last minute butterflies in my stomach. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to release tension and quickly relive stress and anxiety. "To breathe diagrammatically, or with the diaphragm, one must draw air into the lungs in a way which will expand the stomach and not the chest. It is best to perform these breaths as long, slow intakes of air – allowing the body to absorb all of the inhaled oxygen while simultaneously relaxing the breather."
I combine this technique with a simple mediation technique I learned many years ago. I place my left hand on my stomach just below my rib cage and breathe in deeply. I push my stomach against my hand to ensure I am using the diaphragm. As I breathe in, I silently count to myself "Ten". As I breathe out, I push my stomach in, expand my chest and count "nine. I breathe in again as I push against my hand with my stomach and count "eight". Then breathe out and count "seven". I continue this down to one. If I still need to relax further, I slide my hand an inch or two lower on my stomach and start counting down again from ten. I have shared this technique with many others and it has never failed to relax anyone who follows the steps.
5. Use a Royal Entrance – I learned this final technique from a class mate in a presentation class in Dallas many years ago. This technique not only relaxes me, but it invariably puts a smile on my face and pumps me up.
Just before you get up to speak, imagine a trio of trumpets is playing a royal fanfare for you as if you were a king or queen entering the room. Just play this quickly inside your head. Here is an example -
With these five techniques you can overcomes that fear of public speaking and transform into a much more confident, capable and successful speaker.