Do you feel anxious at the thought of speaking to an audience?
Does providing a presentation at a board meeting fill you with cold dread?
You're not alone. Many people who are happy talking one-to-one or in a small group find themselves tied up with anxiety at the thought of public speaking. If you do need to stand up and talk in front of others, don't panic. There are some simple techniques that will help you to be a more confident public speaker.
What's The Fear
First, identify the fear. What are you actually worried about?
That you'll forget what you were going to say, or say something stupid, or ramble on about nothing?
That you'll be so nervous that you blush or faint or stammer?
That you'll be laughed at or that people will think less of you?
Identifying the fear is the first step, the next is to control it. You need some perspective. These three techniques: perspective, preparation and control will turn public speaking from an ordeal to an achievement.
First of all, perspective. Try to remember a bad speech that you heard. How often do you think about it? Not very often - in fact, this was probably the first time you've thought about it in ages.
Even if you delivered a terrible speech, the people who know you and like you will still like you afterwards, while the people who don't know you won't care and will probably never think about you again.
You're not going to make the world come crashing to an end if you deliver a substandard speech.
However, you're not going to deliver a substandard speech, because you're going to prepare.
It sounds like the most obvious advice in the world, but make sure you know what you're going to say. There are a few people - who usually have years of experience in public speaking - who can stand up and give an off-the-cuff address. There are many, many more people who think that they can do the same, then deliver a speech that rambles and hesitates and gets lost along the way.
Before you stand up to speak, know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. This means writing down your speech (or at least having comprehensive notes) and practising it out loud.
And then practising it again.
The reason that good speakers don't look down at their notes all the time is because they've practised so much that they've almost learned them by heart. In addition, practising out loud means that you spot the places where you run out of breath or tend to stumble over an awkward word.
Now practise again.
Finally the day comes when you need to stand up and speak. You know that whatever happens, it's not going to cause the world to end or make everyone hate you.
You practised over and over, so you know when you'll pause, where you'll put your emphasis, when you'll look around the room. But then you think about looking at all those people while they sit and stare silently back at you, and suddenly you're worried again. This is the point where you need to control those anxious feelings.
Take a deep breath and imagine that you're breathing in a sense of calm. Hold that breath and picture the calm feeling spreading throughout your body, right to your fingertips, to your toes, to the roots of your hair. Then exhale slowly and picture all the stress being carried out of your body, leaving only that sense of calm behind. Repeat this a few times, then have a good stretch.
Finally, picture yourself speaking confidently while others listen.
Sometimes speakers are told to imagine the audience naked as a way of dealing with nerves. There's absolutely no need for this. You don't need to see them as vulnerable in order to make yourself feel better. In fact see them as people you have to offer an insight to.
The fact is, you're the one who's speaking and they're the ones who are listening. You are in control of the situation and you are in control of yourself.
It's normal and natural to feel a little anxious at the thought of public speaking; even experienced speakers get nervous.
Identify exactly what you're worried about, give yourself some perspective on the situation, prepare thoroughly and remember that you're in control.
Instead of dreading standing up and speaking, go have a blast!