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Conquering the Fear of Public Speaking
Sweaty palms. Upset stomach. Lightheadedness. Shortness of breath. Rapid heartbeat. These might sound like symptoms of the flu, but if you have a fear of public speaking, chances are you know them all too well.
A Common Condition
First, know that you are not alone. Fear of speaking in public is extremely common. The sight of a podium or microphone can make many people feel fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, and fear of rejection.
The ironic thing is that a touch of stage fright can actually help you be a more effective speaker. You can use the fear of failure to promote your success, if you allow it to motivate instead of discourage you.
Ways to Conquer Your Fear
Here are some tips on how to conquer your fear of public speaking:
- Organize your thoughts. When preparing your speech, organize your thoughts and create short notes to bring with you.
- Keep it simple. Limit yourself to 2-3 main points and use your own stories to illustrate your message. People will remember your stories long after they have forgotten you or the topic of your presentation.
- Practice, practice, practice. This does not mean memorizing your speech word-for-word. Your goal is to become familiar with your material so you can explain it, not simply recite it. It is also helpful to rehearse it out loud. Using a timer can help you judge the length and pace of your speech.
- Think about your delivery. Notice your rate of speech, your voice's tone and volume, your energy level and your gestures, and vary them all for maximum effect.
- Arrive early. On the day of your presentation, arrive early, not just to address any last-minute issues but also to get to know your audience and the surroundings. Mingling with the audience for a few minutes can establish a friendly tone even before you begin your presentation.
- Focus on the information and the audience. When the butterflies take flight in your stomach, tell yourself a little nervousness is nothing to be ashamed of, and remind yourself you do not need to be perfect. When you take the focus off your performance and put it onto your information and audience, you gain some breathing room and remember why you are presenting in the first place.
- Do not dwell on your errors. If you do make a mistake, do not dwell on it. A brief pause of a second or two can seem like a natural part of a presentation to the audience, even if it seems to last an eternity when all eyes are on you. If the mistake is larger, then admit to it and move on. Making a blunder or two can actually give the audience permission to relax, especially if you handle it with humor.
The National Speakers Association
Canadian Management Centre
How to recognize & improve your default public speaking settings. Harvard Division of Continuing Education website. Available at: http://www.dce.harvard.edu/professional/blog/how-improve-your-default-public-speaking-settings. Accessed August 31, 2015.
Public speaking tips. Toastmasters International website. Available at: http://www.toastmasters.org/resources/public%20speaking%20tips.aspx. Accessed August 31, 2015.
Public speaking anxiety. University of Wisconsin STOUT website. Available at: http://www.uwstout.edu/counsel/speechanxiety.cfm. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2015
- Update Date: 08/31/2015