Top 10 Tips to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

You may be terrified of standing up in front of an audience, as I was 20 years ago. Since then, I have developed my skills to the point where I feel at home in front of an audience of any size. Here are my best ten tips to overcome your fear and become a competent, confident public speaker.

1. First and Last Impressions Count

The tone of your talk is set by your opening and the memory of it is cemented by your closing. What happens in the middle is less important. So, practice a great opening, with an open-armed, welcoming gesture and a smile, and practice a great close, with a “thanks for listening” and a final reminder of your key point(s).

2. Remember: Your Audience Wants You To Succeed Many people have an odd idea that their audience is out to get them! Unless you are an unpopular politician, this is almost certainly NOT TRUE. They want you to succeed – they may have paid to be there and they want to be entertained – so they not your enemy, they are ON YOUR SIDE. Just remembering that will help you feel better.

3. Find a Model

Actually, find two or three. Look on YouTube and watch some TED talks. Find two or three people you can relate to and who look and sound like they are confident and happy to be there. Watch their talks several times, noting how they stand, how they move, how they inflect their voice, how they pace themselves, how they phrase their sentences. Notice how the audience responds to them and how they allow spaces for that to happen. These are all things you can learn by imitation and practice. Try out things like: speaking louder and softer; standing still and moving around; using appropriate hand movements to emphasize key points; changing pace.

4. Be Prepared

Until you can give an entertaining talk at a moment's notice, without notes, it is far better to be over-prepared than leave anything to chance. That means practice, practice, practice. If you have to do a one-off talk or presentation, if possible, practice it in the room you will be using. If that is not possible, practice anywhere you can make a fool of yourself without embarrassment. Avoid reading your presentation verbatim, use brief notes, bullet points or mind maps.

5. Your Audience is People

Practice relating to individual people in your audience, rather than just 'addressing the crowd'. There is no 'crowd' - only people. Imagine yourself standing silently in front of your audience, letting your eyes scan the room, and select about six or seven individuals whose faces seem friendly. They will be the ones you look at, in turn, while giving your speech. Once you are comfortable with that, you can move around the rest of the audience, finding others you can talk directly to. After a while, you may find that you can talk to anyone.

6. Avoid Death by Powerpoint

I was once at an event where a presenter gave an interminable, over-technical talk to a lay audience, projecting no less than 35 consecutive dull slides of graphs. He seemed oblivious to the polite feedback of his audience, which was quietly dying of boredom. There are times to use Powerpoint and times just to talk to people. Learn the difference. And if you must use it, keep the number of slides down and use only the bare minimum of text – DO NOT expect your audience to read paragraphs of text that you should be speaking.

7. Keep it Simple, Stupid

If you are talking to an expert audience, familiar with your professional jargon and well above a basic understanding of your subject, then you can be as technical as you like and as long as you can keep them engaged with your new stuff, they will be happy to listen. But if your audience is General Public, don't give them a volley of acronyms and insider jokes, but stick to ground-level language and explain basic principles before elevating them to the next level.

8. Dress to Fit In

If you want to feel comfortable giving a presentation to bankers, accountants or the board of directors I suggest you wear a good suit and appropriate tie, get your hair cut by a professional and spend extra time looking your best. It's not a matter of impressing them with your exquisite tailoring or couture, but of not violating their expectations. They want to feel comfortable with you, as much as you do with them. Of course, once you become an internationally recognised guru in your subject, you can wear whatever you like...

9. Your Voice is Your Key to Success

Great actors are your best models here. Use YouTube (a great resource for public speakers) to find videos of people like Marlon Brando, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Taylor, Al Pacino, Katherine Hepburn, Robert de Niro, Merryl Streep, Gregory Peck, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson and so many others. Listen to their vocal range and how they use it. Don't attempt to imitate their voices, but practice using your voice more expressively and your audience will appreciate your efforts.

10. Be the Best Version of Yourself

If you are new to this, you will be nervous. You should be nervous, because that will give you that extra 'charge' that ensures your talk will be impactful and memorable to your audience. Use that nervous energy to add a bit of fizz to your expressions and your movements, without going 'over the top'. If you are a natural extrovert, this will come more easily, but otherwise, you may want to practice making your voice and your gestures rather bigger and more expansive than normal. If you are unusually tall, be tall and proud of it. If you are below average height, by all means make a joke of it but find ways to compensate, such as wearing brighter colours, or bigger gestures.

© Phil Chandler 2017

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“Yes, you can make a difference! You can speak on behalf of those who are voiceless.” E.N. Supen, Turning Point

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