Public speaking is among people's most common fears, along with fear of dying, heights, and pain. This fear can produce extreme and often crippling anxiety, making it nearly impossible to speak confidently in front of others.
Given the importance of effective oration in both professional and personal endeavors, reducing this anxiety can be of great benefit. Fortunately, there are five helpful and practical tips you can follow to make public speaking a more manageable and less anxiety inducing experience.
1. Familiarize Yourself with the Topic
Most of the time, you will be speaking about a specific topic. Whether it's biology, sales trends, or your favorite memories of your great-aunt, knowing the information you wish to present and having it fresh in your mind will make you feel more confident about what you wish to convey.
By focusing on the information rather than on "what people think" or "how will I sound," you are externalizing the situation, focusing on an achievable goal, and reinforcing the belief that you have something valuable to say. This shift in focus will not only help you improve the content and delivery of your speech, but it will also make you feel more certain and less anxious about your abilities.
Content is king. Remembering it is your kingdom.
2. Create a Script or Outline
Once you've collected your thoughts and information, write out a script or an outline. It's good to have a general structure in mind, such as an introduction, a few main points, some specific details, and a conclusion. If you there are any stories, jokes, or comments you'd like to include, write them out as well.
You don't need to follow your script or outline perfectly when you speak, but it's good to organize and prepare your ideas ahead of time to figure out what to say and how to say it. A good script or outline can also serve as a reassuring map you can fall back on if you get lost or nervous while speaking. Additionally, the process of writing out your thoughts makes you more familiar and confident with the material you wish to present, further helping reduce anxiety.
Yes you need one. There is nothing called an unscripted speech. Those are labelled bloopers.
3. Practice the Script, Notes, or Memorization
Speaking from a script ensures you don't forget things, but can make you sound monotonous and uninteresting. Speaking from memory allows for a more natural cadence, but it's easier to get lost, get nervous, or to forget things. Having succinct but substantive notes ensures you say everything you have to in a manner that feels most comfortable and appropriate for the situation.
Regardless of what approach you prefer, practice it! Try each of the different styles to see what works best and expand your comfort zone. Maybe you wrote a script to lay out your information, then you condensed it into bullet points, but ultimately you deliver the speech almost entirely from memory. That's all okay! The more you practice, the more comfortable you feel.
#1 error in public speaking ---- Lack of preparation!
4. Keep Things in Perspective
If you've followed the first three tips, you should already feel less anxious. You have a well-developed plan of what you'd like to say; now you need to take your thoughts and present them to your audience.
The most important thing to remember is that your speech is not about you. It's about the message you wish to share. People are not judging you; they're listening because they're genuinely interested in the ideas, insights, and information you're going to present. If you've prepared, don't worry. All you need to do is transport the words and ideas out of your mind, through your vocal cords, and into your listeners' ears.
In other words, let the speech speak for itself! Even if you're being evaluated, remember to focus on the message you prepared and practiced and the rest will take care of itself.
No one judges you - they judge what you spoke about.
5. Speak Naturally
When it's time to speak, don't focus on the stage, podium or the people in the audience. Pretend you're having a one-on-one conversation with a good friend who wants to know what's on your mind. All you have to do is mention your main points while speaking in a calm, plain, and understandable manner. If you were talking to your friend, you would automatically do these things without even trying.
Your speech doesn't need to be perfect, so do your best to feel comfortable, and speak and act naturally. If you're still slightly nervous or uncomfortable, that's okay. It's not unusual to feel a little tense. Ironically, if you allow yourself to accept any anxious feelings you're still experiencing, you'll put yourself at ease, and those feelings will eventually fade away.
It'll be more worrying if you don't feel the nerves than if you do.
Finally, don't be afraid if you mess up. People are more interested in your overall content and delivery, so don't get upset if you misspeak once or twice. Keep going.
Making small mistakes is normal, and if you recover gracefully and continue moving forward, you'll still deliver an effective and engaging speech.
No one but you know that a mistake was made. So keep going.
By cultivating a greater understanding of your topic, preparing and practicing what you want to say, and maintaining a positive mindset, you'll feel calm and confident as you speak.
Follow these five practical tips to not only reduce public speaking anxiety, but to make speaking in front of others something you can excel at and enjoy.