Snakes. Spiders. Heights. Death. Public Speaking.
What do these things all have in common? They are among our most common fears.
According to a 2012 study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. Fear of public speaking even has a name, “glossophobia.”
From Warren Buffett to Tiger Woods to Julia Roberts, even high-profile peak performers in their respective fields suffer from the anxiety that comes with public speaking.
As Buffett recounted in a biography, “I was so terrified that I just couldn’t speak in public… I arranged my life so that I never had to get up in front of anybody.”
Learning to manage the anxiety that comes with having to speak in public—whether to five colleagues at your office or 5,000 people at a conference— will help you take the next step professionally.
1. Confidence is rooted in preparation. All the positive self-talk in the world won’t help you if you haven’t rooted your presentation in preparation. Remember that you are in this position because you have valuable insight to offer. Get to know your audience as much as you can in advance so that they aren’t just suits with nametags when you take the stage. What are they worried about? Excited about? The more you can understand their world, the better you can connect.
2. Humanize your audience. The difference between a speech and a conversation is that you aren’t always getting continuous feedback from an audience. That makes it very easy to overanalyze and stress about how your message is being received. I can’t tell you how many times when I was starting out, that I was sure I had just bombed a keynote because I was seeking social cues that are much harder to read in that environment. Or the time I was certain a guy in the front row was checked out because he was on his phone, only to have him share post-keynote all the notes he had typed into his phone of things he wanted to remember from my talk. Remember, the audience is just like you—after all, 3 out of 4 of them share your fear and most likely respect and admire you for speaking up!
3. Re-frame your nerves. I made a career out of public speaking, but I’ll tell you a secret. Every time before I step out on the stage, I still feel a little pit in my stomach. And you know what? That’s a good thing. Those nerves are my body’s signal that I care – a lot! It’s no different than when an elite athlete like Lebron James steps out on the floor for a game and still feels butterflies. Re-frame those nerves as the energy that comes with anything worth having.
4. Share stories. Storytelling is a powerful way to build connection with your audience. And it has a built in advantage for the speaker because most of us are more comfortable sharing a story we know intimately than we are memorizing a rehearsed script. Stories are engaging, and they naturally place the emphasis on the narrative instead of on the storyteller, allowing you to be more relaxed.
5. Embrace the pause. Don’t be afraid to pause during your presentation. What does the pause accomplish? It allows you to calm your anxiety, regain your composure and it signals confidence. You may even want to build in pauses in a way that works for you. Maybe it’s a 30-second video clip or a question for the audience. It may even be literally asking your audience to pause and reflect for a moment on a point you’ve made. However you choose to build it in, don’t be afraid to pause.
6. Ask for feedback. Asking for feedback can be hard, especially when you are new to public speaking. Even the slightest criticism can seem like a crushing blow to our already sensitive self. Take that natural defensiveness and turn it into curiosity, because that feedback is the key to your continued improvement and growth. Hundreds of keynotes later, I still ask for feedback after every speech. And you know what? I still am finding ways to constantly get better thanks to those critiques.
7. Reward yourself! Sometimes you have to trick yourself mentally into making something more enjoyable. Dreading your presentation? Associate it with a reward—something that fills you up and renews your energy. Maybe it’s a massage or your favorite meal at a certain restaurant. Whatever it is, tie it to the presentation you have coming up. You’ll start to associate the two, and it will give you something to look forward to and renew your energy which has likely been drained.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
There is a reason that Toastmasters International has over 332,000 members in 15,400 clubs across 135 countries around the world. While public speaking is a common fear, people recognize that this type of communication is an important step to growth, both personally and professionally. You are not alone in your fear of public speaking, but there are tools and tactics you can incorporate to ease your anxiety.
So next time you’re called upon to speak in public, dig deep and remember these seven tips to ease your anxiety and speak with confidence.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Her e-learning courses spark both personal growth for individuals and corporate development for organizations. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.