How many of you have been told by a boss or some other authority figure, that you need to give a speech or a presentation in front of a group of people. How did that make you feel? Did it make you feel like you had suddenly encountered a Bear or a Mountain Lion that looked like it wanted to eat you?
The fear of public speaking is real. There’s even a scientific term for it, “Glossophobia” and a scientific theory behind our fear of public speaking. In the early days when humans roamed in small groups or clans, a person who spoke out and offended his clan members could be driven out of the group. This could be a death sentence for people who relied on each other to survive, and so people who developed a fear of speaking in public tended to survive, and to pass their fear onto their offspring.
Now in modern times we’re not likely to die if we offend our audience, but that fear remains.
So how do we overcome this possibly genetic fear?
First prepare and practice as much as you can. Nothing reduces fear like preparation. Write down your presentation word for word, convert it into an outline and practice it in front of a mirror.
Dress appropriately, but dress better than your audience. If your addressing a group of ranchers dressed in blue jeans, wear your best blue jeans and a jacket. If it’s a social occasion then a tuxedo or an evening gown may be appropriate. For business settings then wear your best business attire. Dressing well increases your confidence, and your authority.
Arrive early. Familiarize yourself with the layout, and the schedule. Meet the person introducing you and give them a written introduction they can read. This helps them put you in a positive light. Make sure the equipment you need works. Stand on the podium or behind the lectern and get a feel for the space. As audience member come in, strike up a conversation with them. These will be your new friends who you’ve made feel special by talking to them, and they are now on your side.
When you are introduced, take a deep breath and visualize the butterflies in your stomach flying away. Then take a minute to look out over your audience and pick out those friendly faces you talked to earlier. Make your opening remarks to them.
Make sure your opening remarks are well memorized. Opening remarks that you know by heart give you a crutch to hang onto as you are getting used to talking in front of the audience. For those of you who have given presentations, have you noticed that your nervousness goes down as you get further along with a speech? The act of speaking helps you get used to speaking, which in turn helps reduce your nervousness.
As you are speaking, try to be aware of the pace of your voice. It’s natural if you’re nervous to want to speak fast and get the experience done, but speaking rapidly also increases your nervousness. So pause, visualize those butterflies fluttering gently around your head, and speak more slowly. It will calm you down.
Make sure your ending is as well rehearsed as the beginning of your speech. Nothing inflicts terror as much as not being sure how to end what you’ve started. The best ending for a speech is one that recaps what you said and then brings it back to the beginning.
And finally the best way I know to lose your fear of public speaking is to practice it often. I belong to a Toastmasters Club, which is just a group of very nice people who meet every week to practice public speaking. Toastmasters International has over 14,000 clubs worldwide, so it’s likely there’s one near you. Other venues for practicing public speaking include speaker’s clubs, and organizations such as Powertalk International.
Most of us are susceptible to Glossophobia, but we need not be bound to the fears of our Stone Age relatives. With practice and preparation, and by utilizing a few public speaking techniques, you too can become a fearless public speaker.
–Roger Matthew, Association News Committee Member, Montana