Speaking in public is a well-known fear and many people will try to avoid it if they possibly can. However there are occasions when you can’t wriggle out of having to speak in public.
Previously, most of us only needed to overcome public speaking nerves when we were expected to give a speech when we got married, at the weddings of our children, or at significant anniversaries. Most of found it easier to avoid speaking in public on social occasions if we wanted to. But today we often have to make presentations at work. Whether this is to a group of colleagues, addressing a meeting or pitching to clients. Increasingly these days, being able to speak confidently in front of an audience, in person or through a camera lens, is an essential skill we have to learn in order to start a side hustle.
So how do you overcome your fear of speaking in public and find the confidence to produce a polished performance?
Join a Public Speaking Club
This gives you a chance to learn to speak in public in a safe, supportive environment. I joined my local chapter of Toastmasters International early in my pulic speaking journey. There I gave some of my first speeches, and had feedback on how to improve them from people who couldn’t sack me! Who could ask for more?
First of all, know that you don’t have to be perfect. Perfection comes with practice, so begin by simply aiming for competence at first. I was so terrified of public speaking that I felt in a daze the first time I did it. Afterwards, I was immensely proud of myself just for standing up and getting through it. I did eventually get much better, but only through enormous amounts of practice.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes perfect they say, so get as much in as you can beforehand. Write your speech, learn it, and then practice on your partner, your children, your cat, or in front of the mirror. It doesn’t matter who is listening (or not listening), just keep on reciting your speech until you become word-perfect. When you practice, rehearse the emotions you want to display too. Which words do you want to stress most? Are there any bits that you might get more of a response from the audience? Try to visualise the experience before the event.
Welcome Constructive Criticism
Feedback is the path to excellence when it comes to public speaking. Unless you listen to constructive criticism, how can you know which things you need to work on most? It could be that you have a habit of shuffling your feet or mumbling when you speak. Constructive feedback is how you know where to put in extra work.
It’s easy to feel hat an audience is very critical but in my experience this is usually not the case. The audience, rather than thinking you’re making an ass of yourself, is more likely to be admiring your chutzpah! You always sound more confident than you feel, so relax and enjoy yourself.
Your Chance to Shine
How often do you have a captive audience hanging onto your every word? Hardly ever if you are like most of us; so this is your chance to shine, your moment of glory. The audience is listening to you, so this is your chance to show off your knowledge, your sense of humour, and your personality. Trust me, they want you to succeed. The audience is always on your side if you work hard to give your audience some value during your speech.
Connect With Your Audience
Look at your audience and maintain brief eye contact with various members of it during your speech. This will make your audience feel involved in what you’re saying and you can gauge their reactions. If they look interested or amused, it stimulates you and gives you confidence. Whereas if they look bored, then you know that you need to step up the energy a bit. It may not feel easy, but your audience will give you the feedback you need, so make a connection with them.
Don’t Stop Now
You don’t have to be afraid to speak in public. Practice, some guidance from more experienced speakers, and a strong commitment to constant improvement will make you more than competent. Public speaking skills will certainly give your career a boost and you will probably start to enjoy it immensely. Once you overcome your initial nerves, take every chance you get to speak. You will feel more confident each time you do it and you may even become addicted to public speaking!