Just four years ago I avoided speaking in public. Yet, to get ahead in my job, I knew that I had to start saying yes to invitations to speak. That meant I had to figure out how to get over my fear of public speaking.
Jump cut to today and now I frequently give webinar trainings, get interviewed for podcasts and video blogs, speak at conferences, and present in front of groups large and small. Public speaking has helped my career in more ways than I can count.
Here’s how I got confident and conquered my fear of public speaking.
Stop avoiding public speaking
This may seem like a Catch-22, but to get more confident about public speaking you actually have to do public speaking.
Avoiding it doesn’t help at all, it just compounds the fear by making public speaking something that you’re not familiar or comfortable with.
The more public speaking you do, the better you’ll be at public speaking.
Be one with your nerves
Even the best public speakers can get nervous. It’s a very normal response in a situation that gets your adrenaline flowing.
Don’t focus on your nervousness and don’t point it out to your audience either. If they know you’re nervous they’ll pay more attention to your shaking hands and sweaty brow instead of what you have to say.
If you accept that being nervous is natural and inevitable, you won’t be as freaked out by it.
Practice, practice, practice
It’s not about “practice makes perfect”—that’s too much pressure. It’s about practice makes confident. If you’re confident you’ll be less nervous.
It’s easy to tell when someone has rehearsed and when they haven’t. Practice what you’re going to say and you’ll be more relaxed and interesting to listen to.
I rehearse every training and presentation at least three times all the way through. I’ll also rehearse the most important sections, especially the beginning and the end, even more often so I can nail them. The extra time that practicing takes is well worth the confidence boost.
Don’t memorize your talk
Memorizing what you’re going to say word for word can actually make you more nervous. When it comes time to do your presentation, you’ll spend all your energy and attention trying to remember what you memorized. Instead practice and make a short outline of key points to refer to if you get lost.
If you forget something you’ve memorized, it’s harder to wing it. Even if you remember it all, memorization can make you come across as stiff and artificial, which can turn your audience against you.
Recording yourself is a fantastic way to decrease your nervousness because you’ll know that you’ve polished your presentation. If you’ll give your talk standing up, then stand up when you record yourself. Put on the outfit you plan on wearing to see if it makes you look uncomfortable or awkward.
As you watch the recording, you’ll identify and fix both your presentation style and content. You’ll notice distracting facial expressions and body language that needs improvement. You’ll also hear parts where you need to slow down or put a little more enthusiasm into your voice.
Have a drink
No, nothing alcoholic. If you’re a drinker, save the toast for the celebration afterwards.
You don’t want to be dying of thirst while you’re speaking, but you also don’t want the distraction of a full bladder. Have a big glass of water an hour before you start then take a nature break with plenty of time to spare. Also, keep water handy when you speak, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Show up early
Running late is guaranteed to amp up your nervousness. Arriving early at your venue will help you deal with surprises, like if you’d requested a table or a projector and someone forgot to set them up.
Being the early bird will also give you time to get comfortable, open or close windows to adjust the temperature of the room, and arrange your materials how you like them.
Then relax, collect your thoughts, and get ready to give your most confident presentation yet.