5 tips to overcome the fear of public speaking
Craig Smith, our People Change Manager, shares five top tips to help you deliver a confident presentation.
The term ‘public speaking’ can turn palms sweaty, mouths dry and cause legs to shake – inducing fear into even the most experienced, senior professional you know. It is something many of us struggle with and avoid doing at all costs, yet is such a vital skill to have in the workplace and beyond. Sound like you? Well, you are in the right place.
Craig Smith, our People Change Manager, has worked as a Trainer across various subject matters for seven years. Based on this fact alone, it would be fair to assume that he has always been a natural at presenting in front of others. However, this was not always the case. Below, Craig shares his top five tips on how he overcame the fear of public speaking and learnt how to deliver a confident presentation.
1. Prepare and Practice
I was someone who would roll their eyes whenever anyone would tell me to make sure I rehearsed before a presentation, but practice really does make perfect. The more you do something, the more confident you are in your ability to complete the task successfully. Once you have rehearsed your presentation multiple times on your own or in front of any willing volunteers, you will feel naturally more comfortable doing it in front of a larger audience.
Take the time to rehearse out loud and learn your content so you need minimal to no notes. Understanding the details of your presentation and knowing what comes next can help regulate your nerves and ease your apprehension around presenting. Also consider the obvious questions - what are your audience most likely to ask and how will you respond? This will prevent you from being caught off guard and losing credibility due to being unable to answer any questions.
2. Know and Use your Audience
A little bit of audience research can go a long way when it comes to presenting as it can inform you who to direct certain questions to. This helps with audience engagement and participation, as asking someone their thoughts directly is more likely to result in a response – don’t do all the work yourself! Knowing who your audience is going to be can also help you set the tone of your talk. If it was a work presentation in a boardroom, you would probably deliver it very differently than you would to a classroom of students or a room full of friends and family.
In terms of how you appear to your audience, don’t stare at your notes or presentation. Be bold. Make eye contact with your audience and present yourself, not just the material. If you are lacking confidence, people will pick up on that and lose trust in what you are saying – if you are relaxed, your audience will relax!
3. Control your Breathing and Slow it Down
Breathe! When we are nervous we tend to speed up, so make a conscious effort to slow down your speech and take pauses between key points. This will also help engage your audience as they have time to properly process what it is that you are saying. You can even try practicing some breathing techniques – a three second inhale and exhale, which you repeat three to five times.
4. Be Aware of Timings
If you are speaking in an allotted time slot, you need to be aware of how long you have and what you need to cover within that time. You don’t want to find yourself having to rush at the end, especially if you want to utilise a Q&A session. If you have, for example, a 40 minute slot, prepare material that will cover a maximum of 30 minutes. This will give you some breathing room and allow time for questions as well.
5. Relax and Be Yourself
Your audience won’t know if you miss a point or deliver a line wrong, tell yourself you are prepared and know more than the audience –they are not there to catch you out, so relax.
Finally, humour can go a long way to settle your own nerves as well as relax the audience and gain some trust. Take the opportunity to utilise natural and appropriate humour…even if it means laughing at yourself!
It is completely normal to have a fear of public speaking. Infact, 75% of people have varying levels of anxiety around it. Yet, by implementing the tips shared above, you can increase your confidence and ensure you have the right tools available to improve your public speaking abilities.