The fear of public speaking is one of the top 10 most common fears adults share. It’s on the list with fear of spiders and heights.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather speak to people all day long than come face-to-face with a spider. Just finding a photo to go with this post creeped me out. But maybe that’s just me.
A lot of professionals have problems with public speaking or it wouldn’t be on the fear list. Many times it becomes the job of the public relations professional to be the spokesperson for the organization and to prepare others to speak in public when necessary.
This job function means that PR pros must eliminate or control their own fears of public speaking so they can represent their organization well and teach others to do the same.
Here are some tips for how to overcome your fear of public speaking.
The more you know about your presentation, the more relaxed you will feel. Gather details, including those regarding audience and location. Consider:
- Where will the presentation be given?
- Who will attend?
- How much does the audience know about the topic?
- What is the tone of the occasion?
- What will the audience be doing before, during and after the presentation?
- Will other presentations be given?
- What type of technology will be available?
You need to prepare in advance for your presentation, even if you’ve spoken about the subject many times. You should always at least review your notes or slides to refresh your memory, add new examples or update content. You also should:
- Speak to the audience like they’re humans, which, of course, they are! Use a less formal or academic tone to make your message more relatable.
- Repeat key phrases or points at least three times during the presentation to help the audience recall them.
- Use humor, examples and stories to emphasize key concepts, but don’t tell jokes that may be offensive. If you’re going to mock anyone in your presentation, it should be you.
- Avoid errors in your presentation by checking spelling and grammar. Errors are the easiest way to look unprofessional.
- Don’t include too much information in your slides or use distracting or difficult to read color combinations. Remember to use a light background, consistent fonts and at least 32-point type.
Practicing what you plan to say helps you feel prepared and eliminates fear. Practicing in front of other people is helpful, but rehearsing in front of a mirror also is useful.
A professor once told me that he practices research presentations in his hotel room the night before he presents. I adopted his method and it works.
Practicing in the location where you’re presenting is preferable, but not always possible.
Regardless, you must practice out loud. Reading a speech or presentation is not the same as saying it out loud. When you practice with your voice, you are able to work through or write around problems in your presentation.
Always arrive early for your presentation. This allows time for you to get a feel for the room (if you haven’t already practiced there) and work out any tech-related issues.
Be sure to bring your own computer, adapters, etc. Also, always back up your presentation on an external drive and bring a paper copy, just in case. The show must go on, despite any tech problems you may have.
Speaking of tech… Always use the mic. You think you’re a lot louder than you really are. Nothing ruins a presentation like the audience straining to hear the speaker.
There’s no such thing as a perfect presentation because we’re not perfect people. No one is going to judge you if you accidentally say “ummm” or mispronounce a word. Don’t worry about trying to be perfect. Instead, focus on delivering your key messages in a human way that allows the audience to relate to you.
Here’s the thing… the audience doesn’t know how nervous you are unless you show it. You think your nervousness is much more apparent than it actually is. Fake calm, even if you don’t feel it.
You can help make yourself feel more confident by standing up straight and speaking with a strong, confident voice.
Why are you doing this presentation? Chances are good that it’s because you care about the subject and want to help the audience understand it. Don’t focus on your fears and nerves. Focus instead on your audience and their needs. Focusing on serving the audience’s needs will allow you not to worry about your own.
The average attention span is about 25 minutes. You need to create ways to refocus the audience’s attention about every 15-20 minutes. Consider asking a question, telling a story, altering what they’re viewing, playing music, or showing a short video clip to refocus those whose attention is slipping away.
The best way to learn how well you did is to ask for feedback. Just remember not to take feedback too personally.
The best way to overcome your fear of public speaking and become better at it is to do it more often. Seek out opportunities to speak publicly. The practice will help you improve.
Remember that a lot of professionals have problems with public speaking. Practice and preparation are key to overcoming these fears. We can learn to be better presenters, even if we’ll never learn how to like spiders.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What did I miss? What are your tips for overcoming presentation fear?