6 Ways To Control Your Fear of
Public Speaking

You are standing on stage. The floodlights are bright and all focused on you. There’s nothing else on stage with you except a lectern, a glass of water, and a microphone.

Out beyond the lights over 200 pairs of eyes are all looking at you. And they all have their own individual expectations.

On top of those 200 different expectations, there is your own expectation that you need to excel. And the one way you know if you’ve excelled your expectations is if you see some type of approval from those 200 pairs of eyes out there.

What do you feel? Sweaty palms? A squishy feeling in your abdomen? A little light headed? A dry mouth? Some tenseness in your shoulders and neck?

Welcome to the wonderful world of public speaking.

In all of our training programs we use some form of public speaking to help our participants learn how to think under pressure, handle audiences expectations on the fly, and to enhance their ability to communicate with people in a variety of situations. This means everyone in our training programs has to get up in front of a group and deliver a presentation of some type.

In all instances, everyone that we have worked with has felt the symptoms described above at some point during their training experience and speaking career. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never stood in front of a group before or if they are skilled public speakers. Everyone, including the instructor, has those same feelings from time to time.

It lets you know that you are alive and that you are about to embark on a new experience. It says that you are excited and ready to go.

So how do you turn that public speaking fear and anxiety into enthusiasm and excitement? Here are 6 activities you can perform to turn your next public speaking performance into a masterpiece:

Know Your audience.

You are going to have to do a little bit of research here. In many ways, the public speaker is like a sales person. Your ideas have to be what the audience is ready to hear.

If you are speaking to entertain, you don’t want to stand in front of a group that is looking to expand their knowledge. If you are speaking to a group of manufacturing workers, you don’t want to talk about management issues and solutions.

In order to get the attention of the audience and hold it, you have to talk about what is of interest to them. Do your research up front to determine what type of audience you will be speaking to and tailor your presentation accordingly.

Prepare, Prepare and Prepare Some More.

As with any performance you undertake in your career, you must be ready. Doesn’t matter if you are standing in front of a group of managers preparing to deliver a motivational speech or if you are standing at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. Preparation breeds confidence. And when you are confident in your skills, you can perform to the best of your abilities.

Rehearse your speech in front of a mirror. Record your presentation and listen to it. Listen for vocal inflection. Listen for volume and intensity. And listen for places where you can place emphasis to drive your points home.

How much preparation you need depends on your individual circumstances and skill level. However, here is a rule of thumb I learned when I was a member of Cupertino Toastmasters. For every minute you are speaking, have 45 minutes of preparation under your belt.

Know The Purpose Of Your Speech.

In general, there are four purposes for speaking in front of a group. Those reasons are to convince, to inform, to motivate, and to entertain. While your speech may have a mix of those four reasons, one will stand out more than others.

For example, when a sales person stands in front of a group of decision makers presenting a solution, the main purpose of their speech is to convince the decision makers that this is the right solution to address their challenges.

On the other hand, if you’re a manager speaking to your team on getting a particular project finished on time, your main purpose for speaking to them will be to motivate your team into action.

When you are doing your research on your audience, or if an event planner calls you in to speak to their team, identify the purpose of your speech to insure that you are on target.

Don’t Memorize Your Speech. Know It So Well, You Own It.

One of the coping tactics I’ve seen with beginning speakers at Toastmasters groups is that they try to recite their speech from memory. The challenge here is that when you memorize the speech, you aren’t free to engage the audience. You are stuck in your head reviewing your presentation.

For the majority of speeches you will deliver, the fate of nations won’t hang on the meaning of every word that you say, so you won’t need a teleprompter. Nor will you need to memorize you speech. Your audience will be looking at your authenticity, your ability to engage them, and your passion for your ideas. You can’t do any of that if you are trying to recite your speech from memory.

Instead, structure your speech around your basic ideas. Practice talking about those ideas until you know them so well that someone can wake you up in the middle of the night and you can still have a coherent discussion about them.

Trying to memorize your speech will only increase your level of anxiety and fear. You’ll constantly be worried that you’ll forget something. Know your presentation. Own it. Deliver it. Live it.

Know More About Your Subject Than You Need To.

Another challenge I often see in first time speakers is that they pick a topic that they know absolutely nothing about and try to give a 5 to 7 minute speech on it.

In one week, they cram 6 hours of prep (remember 45 minutes of prep work for every minute you are in front of the group) in addition to their work during the day, time with their family, eating, sleeping, and general life maintenance tasks. And now they have to include research time for the topic of their choice.

In our programs, we encourage participants to speak for 2 minutes on a topic that they know extremely well, usually themselves and their experiences. When you pick a topic to talk about, chose a topic that you know something about and then enhance your knowledge even more. Develop reserve power for your talk.

This extra information gives you added confidence when you stand in front of the audience and will prove invaluable when you see that the audience needs a point further developed.

Prepare And Rehearse Your Opening And Close.

Yes, we have said that preparation and rehearsal are necessary in public speaking. But you want to pay particular attention to your opening and your close.

As with a sales situation, your opening is the most important piece. That is what grabs your audience’s attention and keeps them engaged. As in a sales call, if you can’t get their attention, then it doesn’t matter what else is in your speech. Your audience isn’t with you.

The second most important piece of your presentation is the close or your call to action. This is the point where you tell your audience what you want them to do or the action you want them to take. Again, like in the sales call, if you get through your presentation and you fail to provide a clear call to action, they will leave your event feeling like something was left on the table, that there is unfinished business.

Rehearse your opening until you know you can get your audience’s attention smoothly and easily, and rehearse your close until you can leave your audience with a definite, succinct and clear call to action.

6 ideas not enough to put those symptoms in check?

Need additional ammunition for your next public speaking gig?

You can find 6 additional ideas for controlling your fear of public speaking in the follow up article.

Larry Prevost
Dale Carnegie Instructor, Social Media Evangelist
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