Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking
One reason everyone fears public speaking is that nobody wants to appear foolish in public. I think this fear stems from our early public speaking experiences. I once had to give a presentation in seventh grade, in a new school after only being there a couple of weeks. I was very nervous, my face turned beet-red and my classmates made fun of me. It was humiliating and it took everything not to cry. But, I learned (eventually) to overcome that experience and I love public speaking now. You can overcome the fear of public speaking, too and use it as a very effective tool to promote your business.
Here’s what I’ve learned since seventh grade that help me give presentations to groups of all sizes and all types of people. These tips can help you learn to do the same.
Learn how to speak. It is a skill and like any skill, it can be learned. I was fortunate enough to take a speech class in college where I learned how to speak “extemporaneously” and I still speak that way today. I rarely write speeches as I feel more comfortable using an outline instead, and if I read a speech, I can’t “read” the audience as well.
You can certainly take a class on public speaking. You can find many classes at colleges, junior or community colleges and even at community centers, but you can also join Toastmasters. I know many people who swear by Toastmasters, and there are chapters all over the world. In Toastmasters, you learn how to speak and you get to practice giving lots of talks to your fellow Toastmasters.
You can also learn a lot about speaking by reading books and websites about speaking. There are lots of good resources out there. However, like riding a bike, you actually learn speaking by speaking, which brings us to the next tip.
Practice. I was so nervous when I gave my first speech in speech class that I nearly threw up beforehand and I finished in about half the time I was allotted. But, I did make it through, and I didn’t die. And, nobody laughed at me! But, for my next speech, I practiced in front of my bathroom mirror with a timer. I still practice every talk before I give it, although I don’t do it in the bathroom anymore. (Bathrooms are great for speech practicing—the acoustics are usually great in there.)
You can practice speaking in many different ways. Recording yourself, either on audio or video is a great way to practice. And, as mentioned above, a supportive group like Toastmasters provides great practice.
Know your stuff.. The best public speakers know what they are talking about. They are experts in their fields, and are usually passionate about their subject. So, I make sure to speak on topics that lie in my areas of expertise. I organize my material in a flowing outline that works for me. Also, I always try to get some demographic data about the audience so I can know who they are, and I can tailor my comments to be useful to them. For instance if you are speaking to a group of parents, you would use different examples than if you were speaking to college students, even if your subject is the same.
When you are confident in your material, many of your fears will disappear. Much of our fear stems from those early experiences where we were speaking on topics chosen by someone else and which we probably barely researched. You will never have to talk about the War of 1812 again if you don’t want to! You can talk about your passions and subjects where you are the expert.
Psych yourself up. I do this by telling myself that I am there to help people. My content is important to my audience and I know that they are getting information that will help them improve their lives. That not only helps “psych me up”, but it helps me to take the mental focus off me. If I’m thinking about the audience instead of myself, it makes me much less nervous.
Tell yourself before your talk that your information is helpful and your audience is eager to hear it. Write some affirmations for yourself that you can repeat a few times in the days coming up to your talk. Anticipating success can really make you more successful.
Find the friendly faces. I like to pick out a few friendly faces when I’m speaking and focus on them. It makes it a more “one-on-one” experience, which is far less nerve-wracking. After all, we all talk to people one-on-one everyday!
If I glance at a not-so-friendly face, I go back to where I know the friendly faces are. The ‘not-so-friendly” faces I just don’t focus on. I know they are probably not even aware of their expression, so I don’t even worry about it. They might have a headache or need to burp. It has nothing to do with me or my presentation. To think otherwise is to lose focus. Losing focus is why I would never use the old adage of imagining people in their underwear. I’d be hopelessly lost if I tried that. Instead, I imagine the whole audience is eagerly absorbing my content.
These tips can help you get past your fear of public speaking and start thinking of ways you can use public speaking to promote your business. Print this article and re-read it as you develop an action plan to start thinking about topics you can talk about.
Dottie Walters is an expert on public speaking, and her book is a classic. Speak and Grow Rich can help you learn many of the essentials of public speaking.
I love my Flip video camera and it is a great tool for practicing your talks: Flip Ultra Camcorder 2nd Generation, 120 Minutes (White)
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