How can I overcome my fear of public speaking”.

In this post, I want to share my top tips for managing your anxiety and urge you to add your own.

1) Breathe!
I know this one sounds obvious but when we are nervous, our breathing gets shallow and rapid and we deprive ourselves of vital oxygen. Deliberately taking two or three slow deep breathes is a great way to relax. With each in breath imaging breathing in pure White, cleansing light. With each out breath, imagine breathing out any negativity, self-doubt, and tension.

2) Consciously visualize success:
When we are nervous or anxious our brains have a tendency to recall past examples of failure or to imagine how things could go wrong in the future. This isn’t a great strategy for preparing ourselves to give a great speech. Excellent presenters do the opposite.

They deliberately direct their thinking and either remember past times when they have been on top of their game or they imagine their forthcoming presentation going well. The more they can imagine seeing, hearing and feeling success, in their mind’s eye, the more effective a speaker they become.

3) Stand as if you feel confident
The last tip focuses on taking control of our thinking. This one focuses on our physiology. If you want to feel confident and to project that confidence to others you have to “act as if” you were confident.

Standing upright with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointed very slightly out creates a posture where your head is naturally up and your shoulders area roasts and back. If you deliberately adopt this type of posture even though you are feeling nervous inside, your audience will believe you to be confident and you will start to feel more confident yourself.

4) Focus on your audience:
This one may sound a little counter-intuitive but trust me, it really works. Aim to make and hold good eye contact with your audience. Not only will this make them feel more engaged but it will also give you valuable feedback on how well your presentation strategy is working. Since your brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, if you focus on our audience you are not automatically not focusing on fear of public speaking.

5) Remember a past success
Many people like you, doubt their own abilities, especially when it comes to public speaking.  To get yourself into a better “state”,  take a few minutes to go back through your memories and recall times in your life where you have been successful and confident.

It may have been last week or a few years ago. It may have been at work or on holiday or playing sport. Just allow a memory pop up and then go back into it and remember how it felt to be successful and confident. What were you doing?   What sounds were you hearing then? Who was with you? What were you saying to yourself?

By deliberately accessing a memory of a positive achievement from your past you can bring those resources back with you into the present moment.

6) Prepare
There is an old saying that says “failing to plan is planning to fail”. The more important your presentation the more sensible it is to plan well in advance. Don’t try to do it all in one go, and don’t try to do it all at the last-minute. If you feel nervous about our presentations we may find yourself procrastinating over the preparation and this is a sure-fire way to increase your stress levels and increase your fear of public speaking.

Make the time to do it a liite at a time. Plan in 30 minutes a day for a couple of weeks to develop your content and structure and then to write and rehearse it. If you don’t put it in your diary it will never happen,  so a bit of self-discipline is essential.

7) Rehearse rehearse, rehearse
Writing a speech and delivering it are two very different things. Allow some time to read your speech out loud. I tend to print off my first draft then pace around my office, reading it out loud to an imaginary audience. Inevitably I will change the wording during this process as I notice that some phrases just don’t work or flow naturally when I am speaking.

Once I have the script nailed down I will then practice giving the speech without referring to my script. I am not trying to memorize it word for word, but I am trying to groove in the flow of ideas and key messages so that I can focus on my audience and not on my notes. The more I rehearse, the more confident I become.

8) Step “into” a role model
If you are an inexperienced or nervous speaker you may like to try this tactic on for size.   Start by thinking about someone whom you believe to be a confident and effective presenter.  They could be a teacher, colleague, parent, friend or even a movie star.

Now imagine that you could step into their body and “be them” as they give the speech you have prepared. Look out at the audience through their eyes, feeling their boundless confidence. Hear yourself delivering your words as confidently and as fluently as they would.  Notice how your fear of public speaking dissolves as you imagine being them.

9) Join your local Toastmasters club.
There is no substitute for practice but finding a safe and uplifting place to do this can be a real challenge. That’s where Toastmasters clubs come in.

Despite the name Toastmasters international is nothing to do with red coats and weddings. It is a worldwide network of public speaking clubs providing a safe place to practice and gain feedback. I am a member of Solent speakers based in Fareham and I learn something new every time I go.

Google “Toastmasters clubs” in your local area and visit. In my experience, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a friendlier, more supportive learning environment anywhere on the planet.

So what do you think? – what techniques have you found to help you or your colleagues  overcome the fear of public speaking?   Post your comments below.

Gavin Meikle

The Presentation Doctor, helping you beat the fear of public speaking

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