Why Is Public Speaking One Of The Greatest Fears
You step to the front of the room, as the looming sound of many discussions quiets to a piercing silence. You look down at your notes for a second, and when you look up, everyone has their eyes on you. Beginning to speak, you can’t quite tell if your voice is loud enough, or if your words are coming out intelligibly or not. You panic, and start to sweat. losing your place, you frantically look to your slides to get some sense of where you are in your presentation.
If you had to do some form of public speaking, and what I described sounds a little like your experience, you are not alone. The majority of the world feels terror at the thought of speaking in front of a group of people. If it’s as serious as a phobia, it would be described as Glossophobia.
Innately, humans put a lot of value in how we are perceived by others. There is also the intimidating aspects of being overwhelmed, not knowing the answers to questions, being judged harshly, or forgetting your lines; which result in the dreaded emotions of embarrassment and shame. Public speaking doesn’t have to be like this. There is hope, and you might be surprised at how easy it can be to turn your perspective around, and speak with ease.
When I was in the Marine Corps, my specific job entailed giving weekly presentations, for the duration of the four years I served. I had to give presentations in front of many troops, and/or high ranking officers, who were all hanging on my every word. At first it was the most intense and stressful period of my life, but I learned how to alleviate my dread and anxiety, and give a presentation with ease.
After the military, I took public speaking classes in college, and discovered a few key differences in presentation style, which I’ll get into later. Rest assured, I will tell you everything I know that works. Now lets talk about how you can help yourself be more comfortable with the dreaded activity of public speaking.
Ways to Ease Your Anxieties, And Speak With Confidence
1. Practice, Practice, and Practice some more.
This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give, and I put it at the top of the list so you can internalize it first. When you have a commanding knowledge of what you are going to talk about, everything you say will ring with an aire of confidence.
Depending upon your presentation style, you can memorize your lines like and actor, or you can memorize the order of items you will speak on, and simply elaborate on them when you hit them in sequence. I prefer the latter, because it puts less emphasis on getting your lines right, and allows you to merely speak in a conversational tone. It also helps to format the presentation into segments, so your audience has an easier time understanding and digesting the information. This also facilitates the flow, and you can then transition from one topic to the other with ease.
Also, you should practice your run-throughs in a mirror, then in front of a friend, and if you can, in front of a few people, before you move to the final presentation.
2. Get rid of bad habits
There are a few habits that most people do without even realizing it. These habits can be a distraction to both your train-of-thought, and the audience. If you practice both your presentation and the avoidance of bad habits, you will find that your delivery becomes streamlined. Here’s a list of bad habits to avoid while up there on stage.
- Don’t sway back and forth: This is an unconscious coping mechanism, and is both funny to look at and distracting to the audience.
- Don’t put your hands in your pockets: This is simply unprofessional, and doesn’t represent you well to the audience.
- Don’t chew gum: Again, simply unprofessional, and distracting. This can also cause you to not be able to speak clearly.
- Don’t put your back to the audience and read from your slides: I’ve seen this time and time again, when someone wasn’t prepared enough, and falls back to just reading their slides line by line. The audience can read, it’s up to you to elaborate. Plus putting your back to the audience is disrespectful to them, and it may become difficult to hear you if you are not facing them.
- Avoid saying “umm,” “uhh,” and “like”: Nothing says you don’t know what your talking about more than repetitive “umm’s,” “uhh’s,” and the all too popular “like.”
- Announce that the floor will open to questions at the end. Or, if you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them you will get back to them with an answer after the presentation: Preprogramming yourself to deliver either statement will free up your mind to focus on your presentation.
- Don’t swear: This may seem fairly obvious, but I’ve seen people use swears in their presentation. It’s just poor form, and may be very offensive to your audience.
- Loosen up, and avoid the deer-in-headlights look: Being tense and nervous will hurt your presentation a lot. Practice, and talk in a slightly slower than normal speed. When some people are nervous, they start speaking very quickly.
For more on the dynamics of presentation styles, and the psychology of the audience presenter relationship, check out this article by Michael Hyatt.
3. Change your way of thinking
Often times, people have difficulty presenting, because they feel they are not worthy of delivering information to so many. Just realize they are there to listen to you, and have a desire to learn something. This can empower you, and give you the drive to deliver something more than just a required report. Make the presentation your own, engage them, and work in something comical to loosen everyone up.
Another way to help your perspective is to simply not care so much. I know this may sound counterproductive and counter to what I just mentioned, but I’m talking about how much weight you put into how everything needs to be perfect. When you release the need for perfection, you might discover your delivery to be more relaxed, and natural. I’ve actually felt wonderful after giving a relaxed and fluid presentation, and I’m sure you will too.
Other ways of settling your nerves, which you may have heard about before, involves picturing everyone naked, or focusing on just one individual. These methods do help, but they do not help to fix the root of the issues you might have with presenting. I personally prefer a short meditation session before presenting to help settle myself down, and focus my mind. Here is a link to learn how to do Breathing Meditation.
The key to all of this is to listen to how you feel when working through your preparation process. In time, you will discover what works for you and what doesn’t. There is no formula for a perfect presentation, because everyone has their own style. It’s up to you to find your own style and voice. When you’re practicing by yourself, experiment with your tone, speed, and body postures. Practice different types of pointing, either with a wand or laser pointer. Use your hand language effectively to emphasis only important points, and in the interim, keep your hands idle and in a neutral position. Have courage and remember, everyone had to crawl before they could run. If you’re new to this, don’t be afraid of making mistakes or failure. Mistakes can be our greatest teacher. Happy presenting!
Thank you so much for reading my article on how to overcome your fears of public speaking. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out my other posts. You can also follow me through my social networks, or sign up for my newsletter, where you’ll receive a link to any new posts.