Afraid of public speaking? You’re in good company. Over 25 percent of Americans share your fear.
But, no matter how you feel about public speaking, and no matter how much experience you have or don’t have with it, there is room to grow and improve. Little adjustments can make a world of difference.
1. Embrace opportunities to practice.
What we focus on, grows. So, the way you think about public speaking opportunities matters a great deal. If you tell yourself, over and over again, that you’re no good at public speaking, you’ll live down to your own low expectations.
On the other hand, if you mentally embrace opportunities to learn and grow as a public speaker, you’ll feel more hopeful and positive. Even if you’re a veteran to the craft, you’re still working on honing your skills. Every engagement should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to learn and to improve your skills. This attitude will help you bring your A-game.
If you tell yourself that you’re no good at public speaking, you'll live down to your low expectations.
2. Know that it’s normal to be afraid.
Simply understanding and accepting the fact that you’re not the only one who feels the way you do about public speaking could be helpful. People don’t always walk around discussing their fears with others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anxieties. Even people who seem comfortable might be nervous underneath. Try asking a few and see for yourself.
3. Expect the adrenaline rush.
Adrenaline is our biological way of preparing for crucial events. It’s normal to experience a rush of adrenaline before getting up in front of a group of people. It’s even helpful — that burst of energy wakes us up and keeps us on our toes.
But, it’s hard to see the situation as positive when your heart starts to race and your palms start to sweat. It is a good thing, though. These physical sensations may be a little unpleasant, but they help you prepare to spring into action. Understanding this helps. You can also use self-talk to help redefine the way you experience these feelings.
“…focus on those annoying physical symptoms and redefine them as the signs of the good energy that they are,” suggests Nick Morgan at Forbes. “Tell yourself, My hands are clammy, my heart is beating fast, and my mind is racing. I’m ready to run with the mammoths and tigers! This is what I need to do a good job!”
4. Plan a great “hook” and “clincher.”
It’s always a good idea to start strong when doing anything with an audience. So, when planning your talk, pay extra close attention to the way you begin. Grab the group’s attention early with an interesting statistic or a great story. Also, plan your talk so that you will also end strong. Folks will walk away from the experience thinking about those final points. So, choose them carefully.
5. Model the emotional response you want to elicit.
Emotions are contagious. This is something you should be aware of as a public speaker. Your audience is likely to reflect back at you whatever emotion you present to them. In other words, if you’re upbeat and excited, your audience is more likely to be upbeat and excited, too. The same is true if you are feeling uncomfortable. If you reflect back on your own experiences of being in an audience, you’ll know that this is true. So, manage your feelings and behaviors with this in mind.
6. Don’t forget about body language.
Don’t just think about your words when preparing to give a talk. Consider your body language, too. It can send a powerful message. Open body language — no arms folded across your chest, for example — sincere, easy eye contact and a pleasant smile go along way.
You want your body language to demonstrate trustworthiness and competence, not fear. So, practice in advance. If you’re going to give your talk standing at a podium, for example, don’t practice sitting down. Replicate the conditions of your upcoming talk to help you prepare.
7. Reflect and record.
You should take some time to reflect on public speaking opportunities once they’re behind you. It can be tempting to leave the whole experience in the dust, but that would be missing an important opportunity. Instead, take some time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Jot down a few notes. This process will help you continue to hone your skills with each new public speaking “opportunity” that comes your way.
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