According to the The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Americans are more afraid of public speaking than being murdered by a stranger. The study also revealed that Americans are more afraid of public speaking than they are of needles, dying, or being trapped in small, enclosed spaces.
I was always fortunate to feel comfortable speaking in front of crowds. Spending several years in theatre and speech classes, it never really occurred to me that public speaking was something so many people feared. Not that I don’t get nervous before speaking in front of a group, but I’ve never been absolutely stricken with fear. That fear is entirely understandable, however. Speaking in front of people can make you feel vulnerable. We as people have an innate, natural feeling that everyone in the room will criticize and scrutinize everything we say and do.
During my time here at the Washburn University SBDC, I’ve noticed a lot of small business owners who seemingly still maintain this fear of public speaking, whether they’re giving a short presentation on their business or going around the room and introducing themselves at a seminar. If you feel like breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of speaking in front of everyone in the room, you’re not alone. The good news is that there is hope! In the list below, I’ve outlined five tips to reduce your fear of public speaking.
This may seem obvious, but it is the most important tip to follow. Even a skilled speaker like Steve Jobs spent days on end preparing for his presentations. He wasn’t a natural speaker, he worked really hard at it. If you know you will be giving a presentation, no matter how big or small, you need to prepare. Take some time to know who your audience will be, write your material, and rehearse your speech in front of trusted friends or family and be open to their feedback. Most importantly, practice, practice, practice.
Don’t Expect Perfection
None of us are perfect. Even the most skilled, practiced, and experienced speakers make mistakes. The difference between them and the rest of us in that they move on from those mistakes. The rest of us, myself included, tend to magnify our mistakes and imperfections. While we may feel like everyone in the room is harshly judging us, we have to remember that we are our own worst critic. Most of the time if you slip up while speaking, no one will notice if you just keep going and remain calm, poised, and confident. Our mistakes become known to the audience when we break down, apologize, and publicly acknowledge those mistakes. Give yourself a break and don’t expect perfection from yourself. We all make mistakes!
Get in the Zone
Before your presentation, take some time to loosen up and get your adrenaline going. Listen to a song that will get you pumped up and feeling good. Studies have shown that music has an overpowering physiological effect on us. Listening to some great music can get you amped up and motivated.
Don’t Be Nervous About Being Nervous
Being nervous before a speech is completely natural, but a lot of people who have low confidence about public speaking can sometimes compound their anxiety by over thinking about how nervous they are. Everyone gets nervous before a presentation, but this is just adrenaline, that’s all. It’s energy that you can channel in two ways: Use it to your detriment and make yourself more stressed out than you were before, or you can turn your nervousness into positive energy, motivation, and enthusiasm. It’s perfectly normal and okay to feel nervous, just make that feeling work for you, not against you.
Don’t Be Afraid of Your Audience
This is obviously easier said than done, but the best way to think about your presentation is to think of it as a conversation, but with several people. The audience you’re speaking to is there for a reason, and that reason is to support you, so you’re in good company!