7 Steps to Overcome Public Speaking Fear

Public speaking can be one of the most stressful things you’ll ever have to do in your life, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper preparation and the right mindset, you can easily master the art of public speaking, conquer your fear of doing it and learn how to actually enjoy standing up in front of people talking about something you know – yourself, your business and your ideas. Check out these seven steps to overcoming public speaking fear and how to do it effectively.

1. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience helps you figure out what content and messages people – your people – care about. Once you have an idea of what to say, knowing your ideal client also tells you the appropriate message to share with them. Understanding who makes up your target audience and your ideal client will allow you to carefully plan your message and adapt what you say to their interests.

2. Use Visuals

Visual aids support your words with pictures, charts, graphs, or other visual information – even props! While they can all be good reminders for you, the speaker, you should not depend upon them. A lot of people are visual and you are giving them a way to grasp a fuller understanding of what you are sharing with them, while keeping also their attention. Then you don’t have to leave it up to them to come up with their own mental picture of what you are saying. Take the guesswork out and they will actually know what you are intending to communicate to them!

3. Practice Makes Perfect

Public speaking is one of the most important and most dreaded forms of communication. I had this realization. I think people think they should be able to be effective public speakers because they can talk. After all, we’ve been talking since we were tots, so we should be able to be good at public speaking, right? No. And that certainly was not the case for me. That’s like saying you can give a dance performance without being properly trained and prepared because you can walk. Also no. I’m a dancer, so I can personally attest to that!

Public speaking is a learned skill. Yes, there are a few of us who don’t seem to have any jitters or who have a natural presence in front of an audience. But, that’s not most of us. And let’s not forget about the ones who say they aren’t nervous. (Hello Mom.) My experience of those folks is that they just speak stream of consciousness out of their mouths.

That is not what most of us want to hear. We go to hear a speaker who has something that interests us, something we can connect with and learn about. That is why you cannot underestimate the importance of being properly prepared.

4. Don’t Wait Until You’re Ready

You will never be ready enough. Especially if you are a perfectionist. You know who you are. I think the best advice I can give is to be prepared enough. Absolutely, don’t wait till the last minute to write or practice your talk. That is a sure-fire way to increase your nerves and not get what you want from your speaking opportunity. The best thing you can do – wait for it – is get yourself scheduled to speak. Make sure you get a date planned out far enough in the future to give yourself enough time to properly prepare.

5. Breathe and Relax

In preparation, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight equally distributed. Now raise your arms up over your head. Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, slowly lower your arms down to your sides and keep your ribcage where it is. Roll your shoulders up, down and back, not hunched. Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply, noticing which hand moves. A lot of people breathe shallowly and heave their chest up and down, but you want to keep your chest steady and think about breathing into your stomach as you take in a breath. It can even work to start your breath with your attention on the soles of your feet and draw your breath up through your whole body. This can be a good place to return to if you find yourself feeling nervous during your talk. That can help your whole body relax.

6. Get Excited!

If you find that you say to yourself “I am anxious” or “I am nervous”, try telling yourself “I am excited”. This can actually help you BE more excited. When you are excited, you can be perceived as more persuasive, competent, confident and compelling. No one wants to listen to a dull, boring speaking. Don’t be one of them! Preparation is your best friend for public speaking. Prepare and rehearse until you are comfortable with your presentation then practice it some more. Preparation will give you the confidence to be excited, which will show in your talk. I even recommend practicing being excited!

7. Confidence is Key

This can be one of the trickiest things if you’re nervous. Don’t be afraid to “fake it until you make it”. Only you will know that you are faking confidence. The audience will just see your outward confident self. Sometimes it works to have a “power stance”, a pose you can strike that represents how you want to feel when you are speaking. Just be aware that you do that before speaking, not in front of your audience! Taking to heart the previous 6 points will also give you more confidence. I still get nervous speaking, but I don’t stay there. So, don’t worry if you are not 100% confident all the time. No one is! You can certainly reduce your fear and increase your comfort with public speaking with practice and preparation. Like in most things, practice makes progress – even in something as challenging as public speaking. Good luck!