Survey after survey shows that something like three quarters of all people are afraid of speaking in public.
That’s an important disability, because so much of your productivity and success in your work and your life involves sharing your ideas, trying to gain cooperation, and generally communicating both with people you know and with strangers.
Fortunately, almost everyone can overcome any fear of public speaking.
Here are some simple but effective methods to reduce or even eliminate your fear of giving a presentation in front of an audience:
Contemplate Your Audience
You probably know the old saw about defusing your awe of famous people by reminding yourself that they put their pants on one leg at a time. In somewhat the same way, you can defuse your fear of any audience you’ll be addressing by getting to know them more as ordinary people:
- Who are they?
- Why will they be in your audience?
- What are their goals and motivations?
- What are they expecting from you?
Master Your Information
A major source of public speaking fear is your concern that you might not do a good job. This is totally understandable, and easily remedied:
- Gather authoritative information that your audience will appreciate.
- Become as familiar as you can with this information.
- Identify the most important points you want to convey, and why they matter.
- Keep track of your information sources so you can more easily refute any criticism.
- Organize your material into an interesting presentation.
Understand It All
Even the most interesting and important information, however, can bore an audience if you present it like a robot, without emphasis, intensity, or excitement. That’s why memorizing what you’re going to say in public may seem comforting, but is generally a bad idea.
Instead, become familiar enough with the material that a simple list of talking points is enough to trigger you to share what you know with your audience.
Your understanding should cover not just the material itself, but also why your audience should care about it, and what they should take away from your presentation.
You’ll find that deeper understanding provides a solid foundation from which to give a presentation that people will appreciate and enjoy.
There are reasons why even the greatest performers prepare thoroughly in advance. When you do, you’ll find that the more details you work out before you “go on,” the better your presentation is likely to be.
Your rehearsals should include:
- The information you are going to present.
- All the visual aids or technology you’ll be using in your presentation.
- One or more full run-throughs of your presentation, including not only what you’ll say, but also what you’ll wear, how you’ll move, and the key moments you’ll emphasize in hopes of getting your audience to understand, appreciate, and perhaps even laugh or cry in response to your presentation.
- Looking for potential problems or difficulties – from equipment failures to surprise time constraints, and everything in between – and working out your responses to them in advance.
If you can, consider videotaping one or more of your rehearsals. Reviewing such recordings will give you a very accurate sense of the total impression you’ll be making in your presentation, and can spark ideas on how to make a more favorable one.
In particular, pay close attention to your body language and your voice – right down to your pronunciation, tone, and speed, as well as any “tics,” such as repeatedly saying “uh”, “you know”, or any other sounds and motions that add no real meaning.
Before your “big day,” you might even want to give your presentation in front of a small audience of family, friends, or co-workers. This would be a kind of “dress rehearsal” to build your confidence and work out any last-minute kinks.
On the day of your presentation, eliminate any potential causes for worry by packing up everything you’ll need for your presentation and making sure to bring it all with you.
It‘s also helpful to leave plenty of time to get where you’re going, and to arrive early so you can set up, as necessary, in advance of your presentation.
If the situation allows for it, you might want to do one last run-through, on site, just to solidify your confidence and identify any potential site-specific glitches before they can interfere with your presentation.
Speaking in public involves some learned skills that rarely come naturally. This is why your first public presentation will be a lot more nerve-wracking than your tenth.
Using the suggestions in this piece, as well as consciously trying to relax during the run-up to your presentation, will help you minimize your fear and allow your best self to emerge and more fully engage your audience.
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