While most people can bear simply standing before a crowd; creating sounds, syllables, and letters meant to leave their mouths as words can make them feel like they’re being “Punk’d.” Having a fear of public speaking is not so much about the public or speaking itself, it is about two dance partners that never seem to change, judgment, and vulnerability. Though both are a necessary and healthy aspect of the human condition, no one really wants to relinquish control of either and public speaking does just that.
If you’ve ever toiled over how you plan to deliver a speech, you might agree with me in that some of the halting emotions that accompany public speaking never really go away, you just prepare and repeat in such a way that those emotions are only known by you and not your audience. One of the main keys to being a “Fear-Less” public speaker is being aware and in control of the emotions that bubble up when you speak before a crowd. If public speaking is to you as a root canal is to a dental patient, I have 5 helpful steps just for you:
1. Write Down Your Fears
Generally, what happens to a person fearful of public speaking, or even just someone needing to have a difficult conversation, is their emotions become their speech and take the place of their content. You’ve witnessed this happen when a speaker uses an excessive amount of “um’s,” tells an off-color joke, gets acute dry mouth, or produces an amount of sweat that would rival that of a new employee who lied about being proficient in excel. These physical manifestations are symptoms of nervousness, uncertainty, anxiety, and stress.
Start becoming aware and in control of these emotions by taking out a large sheet of paper, markers, and writing down everything you might be feeling about an upcoming presentation. While initially, this type of speech planning might seem a bit elementary, once you begin to call your emotions to the surface, they are less likely to appear in an overbearing way during your allotted 15 to 30 minutes on stage. Like with anything, public speaking takes practice, and no one is ever perfect at it.
2. Have Your Speech as A Conversation
One of the best ways to relax your speech is to deliver it in a casual yet informative way. Call a good friend and ask them to join you for coffee, but do not inform them as to exactly why. Just bring your speech topic up casually. Your goal is to test run the content of your speech and determine if you can deliver it in a way that is not completely foreign to your natural style of communicating. Defining and owning your unique style is important when decreasing your fears around public speaking. While obviously and positively manipulative, you want your friend to hold their position as the audience member and not the judge. When you feel you’ve reached a good stopping point, let your friend know you are preparing a speech, and simply ask them what they thought. Your friend’s honest feedback might give you some insight as to how your audience might perceive your speech.
3. Design an Impact Outline
Whew! I know this sounds awfully fancy and “businessy,” but an Impact Outline for public speaking is simply an organized way of thinking about where you want to figuratively take your audience. What words, pictures, sounds, and charts do you plan to use to get them there?
When designing your outline, you’ll need to decide whether your impact is to be emotional, informative, entertaining or a combination of all three. Your audience should always leave with at least one piece of knowledge they didn’t have before they heard you speak. Not only does the outline help your audience get on track with your speech, it helps you stay on track with your speech.
4. A Little Metacognition Goes a Long Way
Simply put, metacognition means thinking about thinking, and being aware of the best way for you to learn or perform. For example, it’s a good idea to create the opportunity to view the space in which you will be speaking, not only to test technology and organize logistics but to adapt to “how you fit” in the space.
No, I’m not saying that you should go see if you literally fit in the space, but more so how your presence and state of being fits in the space. You might be someone who has a vibrant personality, but your speech is in a space with no windows, color and no decorations. Going to view the space will help you determine what elements you may need to add to your presentation to be comfortable, as well as break up whatever dullness you can.
5. Abandon the Podium
I often say that “Behind the podium is where the room owns you, beyond it, is where you own the room.” While presenting from the podium can be unavoidable, it does a person who fears public speaking well to moderately utilize the space beyond it. I began using this simple tactic in college because I felt that standing behind the podium restricted my natural style of communicating; I viewed it as an engagement barrier between me and the audience. Additionally, by leaving the podium you’ll no longer be able to zero in on every eye looking back at you, instead you force every eye to follow you, and as a result, start owning the room.
Beyond the art of public speaking, I truly believe that being intentional and aware about the way that you communicate is a primary factor in attaining the level of success you desire.