Public speaking is a naturally anxiety-inducing task for many people. It's no secret that presenting in front of a group of colleagues, potential clients and other professionals can be intimidating.
However, public speaking doesn't have to be a frightening experience. On the contrary, it can be empowering. These tips will help you conquer your fear of public speaking and find the confidence you need to deliver your presentations with authority.
1. Prepare and practice.
The most obvious step for anyone feeling nervous about their upcoming speech is to prepare and practice. Don't obsess over the minutiae of your presentation; prepare a series of quick notes that keep your thoughts organized and that you can reference if you get tripped up.
Once you've organized your thoughts into bite-sized bullet points, it's time to practice. However, it is important to remember that when practicing you shouldn't be drilling yourself on a word-for-word routine. Leave room for the speech to flow naturally.
"Practice your talk to gain familiarity around the content and to check that your words, intonation and body language are in sync," said Fazeena Haniff, a communication coach based in Toronto. "Refrain from practicing so much that your talk sounds rehearsed. You want to give room for your talk to unfold organically. The more organic it is, the less anxious you'll feel about what the audience is thinking about you."
2. Slow down and take your time.
Many people deliver speeches at very rapid speeds without even realizing it. One function of nerves is that speakers tend to breeze through their presentation in a subconscious attempt to just get it over with. Much like with a good joke, timing is everything. Create opportunities for the audience to sit with an important thought for a moment, or to respond internally to a rhetorical question.
Patience and slow, deliberate progress is important in the big picture as well. Speeches are an art, and just like painting or sculpting, they take practice. Be patient with yourself and take your time as you develop your skills. A bad speech is just a learning opportunity and will only help you to deliver a better speech the next time.
"Slow down! Many people, when nervous, talk too fast," said Lynn Whitbeck, owner of TigerPress and founder of mentorship community Petite2Queen. "As your career grows, you will make presentations to larger and larger groups. Repeat your speech, knowing that your nervousness is nothing more than inexperience. The more you do it, the better you'll get at it."
3. Shift the focus to the audience.
Oftentimes, anxiety is rooted in a fear of others' perception of you. You don't want to flub your speech because the audience might think you are foolish or do not really understand your topic.
Instead of worrying about yourself, focus on delivering a valuable experience to the audience. By making your priority to enrich the audience rather than present yourself in a particular light, your attention will shift toward the audience and away from your own fears.
"Remember that the fear of public speaking or networking is due to a focus of self. You are worried about what others think about you. If you shift the focus to adding value to the person you're speaking with or the group you're speaking to, it will significantly alleviate anxiety," said Michel Valbrun, a CPA at the Valbrun Group. "More times than not, your audience is rooting for you to be successful, because they also share your fear."
4. Make eye contact and share anecdotes.
One of the most common tips in public speaking is to make eye contact, and for good reason. Eye contact re-establishes a connection to the audience and keeps you from losing their attention. Nervousness often leads speakers to look down at their notecards or up at a projector for the entire presentation, but there is no quicker way to make the audience feel disengaged. Luckily, there are a few tricks to help keep your eye contact brief, effective and comfortable.
It's also helpful to share anecdotes that highlight the point you're making. Facts and abstractions will lose audiences' attention as well, but stories that are relatable keep them engaged. Just like you would look a friend in the eye when you are telling them about your day, so too should you make eye contact with your audience members when using an anecdote to drive your point home.
"Before I go on stage, I always take a few deep breaths and remind myself I have practiced a lot and know this topic well," said Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of marketing company Mavens & Moguls. "I try to make eye contact with at least a few people in the audience as I speak and share stories from my experience to make my points."
5. Stop trying to be perfect.
Many public speakers strive for perfection in their presentation, which is neither a realistic nor desirable goal. Perfection seems robotic, and robotic speakers are simply not relatable. Delivering a good speech is about the ability of the speaker to connect with the audience.
"Studies show that people connect more with individuals that are authentic and vulnerable," Valbrun said. "Like anything, the more you engage in the activity, the better you will become."
If you stumble over your words or temporarily forget your place, simply relax and understand that the audience is connecting with you as a human being, rather than perceiving you as some sort of ultra-polished, unrelatable robot.
6. Keep it simple and embrace the opportunity.
Ultimately, delivering a good speech is about relaxing, taking your time and naturally discussing a topic you already know a great deal about. After all, there is a reason you were asked to give the presentation in the first place; if you're afraid you don't actually know enough about the topic, remember that the audience is there to learn and is likely looking for surface-level information that you consider basic.
The audience is not your enemy, and they want you to succeed. Rest easy knowing that you are your own worst critic, and by preparing ahead of time, slowing things down and rolling with the punches, you will be able to deliver a great speech.