Most of us have a fear of standing in front of an audience to deliver a speech or presentation, regardless of the environment or setting. The fear of public speaking is, unfortunately, fairly widespread, and whether you’re standing in front of your colleagues, family, friends, or your classmates, the result is the same almost every time. You stand there, stammering through the speech, feeling your heart in your throat, and trying not let the world see your shaking hands and knees. No amount of practice and preparation is enough when it comes to speaking in front of an audience, but since it is worth every effort to master the skill, here’s how you can tackle your fear of public speaking.
Dealing with Public Speaking Anxiety
Below are some basic tips that can help you convey your point without ending up in a puddle of your own sweat like the Wicked Witch of Oz:
- Prepare for your speech
- Body language matters!
- Attain clarity of voice
- Calm your nerves
- Don’t hide behind your notes!
- Finish what you started
Now, before you start getting anxious, let’s move on to the tips in detail:
Prepare for Your Speech
You’re about to give a speech in a few days, and the thought of standing in front of people is making you feel nauseous. Well, the best way to tackle your fear of public speaking is to practice your speech out loud. Imagine you’re talking in front of a roomful of people and use the exact tone, gestures, and content you will use during the actual presentation.
If you want to monitor your expressions, use a mirror. Want to determine whether your tone of voice is appropriate? Record your voice on your phone and pay it back for yourself. Remember, voices always sound way worse on a recorder than they really are, so focus only on the tone, not the voice itself. You can always get some eager volunteers to criticise you (read: make you feel better and smile) after you’ve given your speech in front of them. This small group could include family, friends, extended family or colleagues.
Body Language Matters!
The way you carry yourself and the way you stand in front of an audience can command respect and make them eager to listen to you. For this, it is important to avoid slouching forward over a microphone and to face your audience head-on. Make firm but brief eye contact with the listeners, while standing straight. Avoid pacing, fiddling with your belongings or hair, and crossing your arms in front or behind your back.
If you are prone to fiddling to calm your nerves, clutch your note cards in your hand. Keep your grip relaxed though, don’t squeeze the life out of them before you’ve had a chance to read your cues on them. They won’t grow wings and fly away, and you will not drop them if you loosen your death grip on them slightly.
Attain Clarity of Voice
Since you are tackling your fear of public speaking, you should do it right. This includes projecting your voice so that it carries over the audience to the very last person in the room. Along with that, you will need to pace yourself. While your nerves will prompt you to speak at a rapid pace and get this over with, you need to convey your message to the audience.
Speak clearly, slowly, and if you start forgetting your lines, do not try to fill the silence with your stumbling ‘uh’, ‘ah’ and ‘umm’. Pause, breathe, find your way back to the text and continue. Stay in control. Also, do not drone on in a monotone. Vary your pitch to emphasise your points where necessary.
Calm Your Nerves
Yes, it’s easier said than done! But, is it impossible? Not really! So, how can you calm your nerves? Firstly, drink some water beforehand to avoid a dry throat or keep a glass of water at hand during your speech if you can. Eat something too, if you can, since low sugar levels can affect your concentration.
Additionally, understand that everybody gets nervous before an audience and you can easily use humour to start your speech on a good note. You can also try breathing techniques to stay calm before and during your speech.
Don’t Hide Behind Your Notes!
Public speaking is all about engaging with the audience and conveying your message to them. You won’t be able to do that by just reading your speech like a robot from some pieces of paper. The purpose of cue cards is not to hold the entire speech. You should use them only as cues and once you’re on track, make eye contact, smile, engage the listeners and make them eager to hear more.
You’re nervous, you’re shaking, you’re sweating and what can make it all better? A smile. Not from the audience (although that’s great too). But a smile from within. A smile for the audience. Even if you’re a nervous wreck, pretend like you’re totally in control and smile through your speech (not recommended while expressing sad sentiments though).
Finish What You Started
No matter how many times you stumble, pause or forget your speech, remember you are noticing all of it way more than your audience. They probably think this is how it was supposed to be. Go with the flow, take each mistake and fumble in stride and finish what you started. Do not let the fear of making mistakes take over. Do not quit halfway. Keep at it. Even the best public speakers get frazzled at times. Pause, take a deep breath and carry on. Conclude your speech properly and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes after.
While these tips might not help you tackle your fear of public speaking completely, they can help you minimise the anxiety that takes over before speaking in front of an audience. Good Luck!
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