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Eight Tactics to Fight a Fear of Public Speaking

We all know the classic bit of advice ‘imagine the audience in their underwear’. Apart from being more than a little bit disturbing and confronting, it’s also not terribly effective. There are a wealth of tips and tricks you can use to feel more confident while public speaking. Here are a few of our favourites:

Practice makes perfect

John Travolta’s infamous Oscar gaffe of referring to singer-actress Idina Menzel as “Adele Dazeem” could have easily been avoided with a little bit of preparation. Simply reading through your notes a few times beforehand can prevent a lot of mistakes. If you really want to do it properly, it’ll take a lot more preparation than that. Ideally you should know your stuff back to front. You need to be so good that if someone asked you to give them the gist of the speech, your explanation would be as fluent as the speech itself. Like the old saying goes, “don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t get it wrong”.

Preparing for the worst (even if it’ll never happen)

While you may try as hard as possible to prepare for all eventualities, the room you’ll be speaking is never going to be as perfect and controlled an environment as your bedroom in front of the mirror is. Technical hiccups could knock the projector out, a young child could start screaming in the back row, you could drop every one of your palm cards. Imagine these things happen and know you can recover from them. Try practicing with music playing with a loud, obnoxious song cued at an unknown point, or practice recovering after dropping your notes. Understand what the speech is and says beyond what it looks like in a mirror so whatever happens you can safely pick up and keep going.

But hope for the best

Practicing for losing your spot or mispronouncing your boss’ name can head off a lot of potential gaffes. However, that doesn’t mean you should be approaching this event thinking that everything will go wrong. Don’t go up to the podium worrying about floundering up there, walk up there with confidence thinking everything will go perfectly. This leads to more positive associations with the event. What’s more, can you remember the last time you watched someone speak in front of a group of people? Unless it was a large event or someone famous, it’s likely you won’t be able to pinpoint a single occasion. That’s because whether you’re good or bad, people are going to forget if you got a bit anxious or stumbled over some words.

Approaching it like a conversation

Remember that you’re here to explain a message to another person. It’s not the Oscars (though if it is, congratulations!), the audience’s isn’t listening as some singular group, they can only listen as individual people. This can sound intimidating, but what it means in practice is that your speech doesn’t have to be a big performance. Think of it as having several hundred calm, one-on-one conversations at once. As you flick your gaze around the room, make sure you make eye contact with people like you’re just chatting at your desk. It’ll make it easier.

Avoid overthinking the audience’s reactions

As much as 90 per cent of human communication is non-verbal, meaning the message you’re getting form the audience is largely not coming from what they’re saying, but from their facial expressions and body language. This becomes an issue only when signals are misconstrued. Understand that an audience sees themselves as an unconnected mass, while you see the opposite. They won’t lean forward or smile encouragingly while listening, so this means you can stop looking for these cues. Remember, if a person is yawning, it’s likely they just got up early to watch Game of Thrones or spent all night with a crying baby, so it’s not you.

Looking the part

If you look confident while walking into a room, you’ll immediately set the right tone for the speech. The audience will only see a self-assured stride, and not the sweaty palms or tunnel vision. Remember that your audience is here for a reason and has no interest in watching you fail, they’re here to watch someone speak. People are simply far more likely to see what they want or expect to see, so if you look confident you’ll sound confident.

Think before you speak

The focus should be on what you’re saying, not who you’re saying it to. If you want to avoid being worried about the audience, simply don’t think about them. Concentrate only on the speech, the intricacies of it, your excellent word choice, how great it’ll sound. Think closely about how you’re going to say the next sentence, not how it’ll be received. You only have control over one of those two things.

Keep getting on the horse

Giving a speech might be terrifying the first five times, the first ten times, or even the first fifty times. However long it takes, it’ll eventually boil down to you chatting to a group of people about something you know that they don’t. Remember that you have something to say and they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to hear it.

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