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Overcoming a fear of Public Speaking

Whenever I have to present something publicly, my thought trajectory usually looks something like this:

  1. Why do I have to do this?
  2. This is actually a really cool topic, I’m enjoying this research process.
  3. I’ve prepared my speaking material, I have my presentation slides ready- I’m good to go!
  4. The day before: I have nothing to wear!
  5. The day of: This is really scary, I don’t know if I still want to present this publicly.
  6. 10 minutes in: Enjoying it, still slightly nervous but in that moment, has forgotten about the previous rollercoaster of emotions.

If your thoughts towards public speaking look anything like mine above (or even if they don’t!), you’ll probably agree with me in saying that public speaking can often be a challenge. In fact, it’s estimated that over 70% of the population fear public speaking. However, there are many benefits to presenting whether that be sharing your ideas with a new audience, improving your communication skills or advancing your professional career. In today’s blog post, we’ll go over how to overcome a fear of public speaking and prepare for it in three stages: before the day, during the day and afterwards.

1. Before the Day- Content, Audio, Visual.

You’ve just been given the date when you’ll be asked to present your conclusions on your Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) or pitch the idea you have for a new club at your school. How do you prepare?

The first step would be to know what you will be presenting on the day. Whilst the content of your speech isn’t the only important aspect of speaking, it is an important aspect. If you’ll be expected to show your understanding of a topic then do your research before hand, know the key points or arguments you’ll be making and practice communicating this information several times before the actual event. As you approach your presentation date, try to mimic the conditions you’ll have on the day- practice with an audience, out loud, with a timer, sitting down or standing up (whichever you’re likely to do on the day). You can even practice the little jokes you want to sprinkle throughout your speech because believe it or not, public speaking is one of those activities where more practice helps you seem more natural and spontaneous on the day. This is because by that point, you’ve become so familiar with your material that you can change phrases or add even more jokes without losing the structure of your speech.

Secondly, remember that it’s not just about what you say, it’s also about how you say it. Whilst practicing, pay attention to your tone of voice, your volume and intonation. It’s also helpful to think about your body language and how you’ll come across visually to your audience. Practice using open body language, smiling, using your hands to signal important points or even using any props if necessary. If you know where you’ll be presenting, it’s helpful to go to the space (even a few minutes before you present) and get used to walking around and speaking in that environment. On that note, don’t be like me and instead, avoid panicking about what to wear by picking out an outfit (or 2-3 potential ones) at least the day before.

2. On the Day- Deliver!

By this point, the majority of the preparation is done and all you need to do is put yourself in a position to deliver your speech as best as you can.

It’s important to notice how you’re feeling right before your speech and address it. If you’re feeling really nervous, then maybe do some breathing exercises or try to focus really hard on something unrelated to your speech. If you notice that you’re feeling moderately nervous and excited then remind yourself that it’s ok to feel both of those emotions at the same time. Regardless of the scale, acknowledge where you are and what might help.

Some people even having a pre-speech ritual (a power pose for example) which helps them get in the zone and feel more confident. You might have a power pose or a mantra you like to use or even your favourite pair of shoes to wear for public speaking. Whatever it is, make time for this before you start presenting if you can and even if you don’t have a pre-speech ritual, focus on breathing deep breaths.

It’s common for us to speak faster when we get nervous or excited, both of which are common in public speaking so as a rule of thumb, speak slower than you think you should and remember to use breaks before or after important points.

Lastly, as you go on stage or prepare to start speaking, it’s important to remember the purpose of your speech. Is it to inspire your audience? To educate them on a topic or to share a lesson with them? Whatever the purpose is, notice that it’s for the audience which means that you can take the pressure to be the best speaker off your shoulders and instead focus on conveying a message to the audience and interacting with them in a way that achieves the goal of your speech. This is not the best time to remember all the advice you’ve ever heard about public speaking or force yourself to walk around the stage if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Instead, deliver the presentation as you do and do it to the best of your ability.

3. After the Speech

Firstly, congratulate yourself and acknowledge what you’ve just accomplished! Afterwards, it’s really helpful to take note of how you felt during your presentation: did you enjoy it? Did you feel prepared? Were you happy with the audience interaction? Write down all the things you think went well and anything which you would want to improve or change next time. Then, the next time you have something to present, you already have some experience-based feedback to start you off.

If you’re able to, it’s also helpful to take feedback from the audience. This can be done through polls, surveys or simply speaking to members of the audience and asking them how they found it. Not only can this help with your confidence levels after a presentation but it also gives you a chance to understand the experience on the receiving end of your speech.

As a bonus tip, let your audience know that your speech has ended by saying “Thank you” and opening up for questions if appropriate. Saying “Thank you” also helps you mentally acknowledge that you’ve done it and made it to the end of your speech and this can be a great confidence booster. On that note, thank you for reading today’s blog post and if you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments! (see what I did there?)

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