It’s no secret that public speaking is a top fear for many people. But I don’t like the term ‘fear’. Why? Most people I coach simply experience some anxiety – sweaty palms, heart racing, some butterflies — not outright fear.
Sure, some people do experience true fear and I help them with that. But for most people this ‘fear’ can easily be overcome. It won’t happen overnight, but with time, practice and a few tools you can become a more comfortable, confident speaker. Here are my top tips to help you get started:
1. It’s not about you.
This is the number one thing I tell all my clients. Instead, it’s about the about the audience and the message you have for them. Think of yourself as being there to serve them, as a teacher, enlightener, or guide. When you take the focus away from ‘you’ to ‘them’ and see yourself being in service to the audience it can put you in a different frame of mind.
2. Keep it simple.
Too often we think we need to tell the listener or audience everything we know about a subject. But too much information is overwhelming and they’ll walk away with nothing (an overloaded message is a forgotten message). You need to break it down into easy, digestible points. Have a simple outline, with each point you want to make and an example. The example can be a story, a personal experience, facts, a study…you get the drift. But keep the message clear and simple. Now this doesn’t mean ‘dumb it down.’ It’s means breaking it down and using and language that the audience can relate to.
3. Know your message, and why the audience needs to hear it.
Now this doesn’t mean you need to know your talk or speech word for word. In fact, I am against memorizing a talk (I’ll save that subject for another post!). But when you know what your message is, why the listener needs to hear it, what you want them to know and walk away with, you won’t be afraid of forgetting what to say. Sure you need to practice, but when you really know and care about your message getting it across is much easier.
4. Do what feels right for you.
Too often clients tell me they want to speak or present like “X” (insert famous or well-known person with a smooth and perfect delivery). Of course, I help all my clients be better speakers, but I never want them to be someone else. Be authentic. Be you. That means knowing what you do well, and where you can improve. Take an audit of what you do that works well and what doesn’t. For example, if you say “um” a lot you should try to eliminate it from your delivery (saying “um” too often is distracting to the audience and makes you come across less confident). Be you. Just be a better version of you and continually hone the your presentation skills. But if you try to be or present like someone else, you’ll come across as inauthentic (and ineffective) and the audience won’t be fooled.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Speakers who seem to be ‘a natural’ with perfect delivery, I can assure you they practice their talk multiple times. Effective speakers are made not born. Sure, some people are more comfortable in front of a group or on stage. But I can tell you great speakers are great because they practice and continually challenge themselves to take their speaking to the next level. By ‘practice’ I don’t just mean practicing out loud with only you in the room (though that is helpful). If you can, practice in front of others and get their feedback. Were they engaged? Were they able to follow your talk? Did you speak too fast? Did they walk away remembering your main idea, or did they forget after a day or two? Getting honest and open feedback is crucial to taking your speaking to the next level. And practicing enough so that you know your talk inside and out, without it seeming to be memorized or robotic, is key to easing the fear.
One final piece of advice – get out there and speak. Whether that means presenting to your team at work, speaking to a group about a subject you’re passionate about, or even a short presentation at a meeting, take every opportunity you can. Because the way to get past the fear is to step into it. Who knows? You might even find yourself enjoying it and it being one of your favorite activities. I’ve seen it happen many times.