As you progress in the professional world, you may be asked or even required to speak publicly about your work or work projects. In these moments, it is essential to present yourself in the best possible light, something which can be immensely difficult for someone who suffers from a fear of public speaking.
This fear is more common than you may think and there are steps that can be taken to understand and eventually overcome your fear of public speaking.
KNOW YOUR TOPIC
The better you understand what you’re talking about — and the more you care about the topic — the less likely you’ll make a mistake or get off track. If you do get lost, you’ll be able to recover quickly.
PRACTICE IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE
The mere presence of other people can create a feeling of uncomfortable anxiety. To overcome the fear, you must adjust to the situation – something which is not possible if you practise solo.
The key is to practise under conditions that resemble the real performance but on a smaller scale. In a small group, you can see everyone’s facial expressions and understand what it feels like to be the focus of everyone’s attention. Whilst this may feel like the opposite of what you want to do, preparing yourself under conditions with maximal anxiety will make the real thing less daunting.
Record yourself giving the talk from beginning to end, ensuring it is as close to the real thing as possible. Listen/ watch it and make notes on anything you wish to change or improve on. This is a great way to identify anything which may cause you difficulty in the real thing.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Gaining a deeper insight into your intended audience can be highly advantageous. Along with helping you to tailor your material, it also allows you to humanise the audience and find aspects of common ground. Whilst it’s not always possible to build comfortable relationships beforehand, a little knowledge about the audience can make them feel like less of a stranger and reduce your anxiety.
TURN OFF THE LIGHTS
If possible, darken the room to obscure the audience. This has two benefits:
- Whilst it makes it easier for the audience to see the stage, it also allows individual faces to become less visible. This can greatly reduce the feeling of being watched,
- It allows the audience to feel more concealed and therefore less inhibited in what they are willing to laugh at.
LEAD WITH A GREAT OPENING POINT
Knowing where to start can be a great source of anxiety when speaking to large audiences. A great opening point can pull the audience’s attention away from the speaker and gets them thinking instead of judging. A couple of ideas to try are:
- Question or puzzle – based around the subject which will then be answered later
- Story – getting the audience to think about the narrative, plot and characters.
CHALLENGE SPECIFIC WORRIES
It’s human nature to overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening. A way to overcome this is to list all of your worries and then directly challenge them with probable and alternative outcomes.
DON’T FEAR A MOMENT OF SILENCE
Don’t panic If you lose track of what you’re saying or start to feel nervous and your mind goes blank. It may seem like you’ve been silent for an eternity when In reality, it’s probably only been a few seconds. Even if it’s longer, it’s likely your audience won’t mind a pause to consider what you’ve been saying. Just take a few slow, deep breaths.
While fear teaches you to protect yourself in risky situations, letting that fear stand between you and your audience could prevent you from sharing inspiring ideas, speaking about important work, and presenting interesting solutions to problems that affect many people and ultimately moving up the career ladder. The more public speaking events you partake in, the less nervous you get — partly because you improve, but mainly because you work out that the world does not end if things do not go quite to plan.
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