Overcoming public speaking

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
by Abigail Tait

Almost everyone gets nervous before they have to speak in public. It’s natural and common, but can actually be a positive thing. Public speaking is an important part of many careers and professions, and being an effective public speaking is a huge asset to have. Whether you are speaking in front of an audience of 300 or speaking in front of a board or committee of 10 people, effective public communication skills are essential to getting ahead professionally. First and foremost, you must understand that nerves are okay; it’s your body telling you that something is at stake. Although I am no expert in public speaking, I have developed strategies and tips that have helped me curb my fear of public speaking. I have accepted I will be nervous, but have learned to channel those nerves into something productive.

A very important step to getting over a public speaking phobia is to address a common root cause – eliminate the fear of rejection. For the most part, your audience wants you do to well. They aren’t waiting for you to screw up so they can boo you off the stage or laugh at you. They came to listen for a reason. Things can go wrong, you can miss a word, or you can forget where you are, but the audience wants you to persevere and keep going.  Don’t overthink audience reactions. There’s always going to be someone on their phone, yawning or whispering to their friend. Don’t take it to heart and keep moving forward with your presentation. If you overthink a negative reaction, it will be noticeable in your speech.

One of the most important steps to overcoming a fear of public speaking is to be organized. By organizing your thoughts and material ahead of time, you can really focus on giving the speech, rather than the content or thoughts you have while you’re presenting. Make sure you know your content and understand what you’re saying. If you are simply memorizing material that you really aren’t familiar with or understand thoroughly, you’ll worry about getting the exact wording right, rather than how you’re saying it. Along with organization comes practice and preparation. Nothing will replace practice when it comes to public speaking. Once again, becoming familiar with your speech and your material will make you sound much more genuine. Don’t practice to the point where you no longer sound like you are a human, but become familiar enough with your material that you could talk to your co-worker about it. Writing out a script of your key points can help you transition from one idea to the next, but don’t read from a script word for word. Preparing well for a speech means you could answer questions if they were thrown at you unexpectedly.

Since nerves are natural when it comes to public speaking, it is a good idea to understand what you do when you’re nervous. Do you get short of breath? Do you get sweaty palms? Do you fiddle? Understanding how you respond to anxiety means you may be able to channel those nerves into something useful. Common strategies for myself are to keep my hands busy with gestures, movements and walking around. Walking and using my hands to emphasize certain points gives me something to do when I can’t stand still. I used to play with my hair when I spoke in public, but I have learned to use those movements to emphasize my ideas instead. Although you should only use these when effective, they are a good way to channel those nerves into movement. Another physical strategy is to practice breathing. You never want to be out of breath in your speech or presentation. Breath-work can help you reduce stress before you speak, but it is also helpful when you are speaking. Work on getting into a rhythm and finding a breathing pattern that allows you to take pauses or make an emphasis.  Make your nervous energy work for you and turn it into a positive, motivating energy.

Public speaking can be a daunting and intimidating task, but you can get over this fear with practice and preparation. Practicing your movements, your voice changes and your material can make you much more familiar with your speech. Practice a couple times without planning any kind of movements, what naturally happens? Do you emphasize lists with your hands? Do you gesture to photos or slides? Work these things into your speech because it will be much more comfortable for you. Overcoming public speaking is easier said than done, but there are many ways to make the task a bit more manageable.

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