Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

The idea of standing in front of an audience and delivering a speech haunts many people. Fear of public speaking is crippling and debilitating, but the good news is that it can be overcome.
"The average person at a funeral would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy." - Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld's words echo how many feel about public speaking and presentations. In fact, the experience for many goes like this - you are up on the podium, with all eyes focused on you. Your palms are sweaty, throat dry, and as you begin to speak, you go blank. You can almost picture your thoughts growing little wings and taking flight. If you have faced this situation, know that you are not alone. The fear of public speech is one of the most common phobias. In fact, many powerful orators and speakers have grappled with it at one point of time, or still do. While each person who has made the transition from a nervous to a confident speaker, has devised their own method in doing so, the common thread that exists between them all is the channeling of that fear.

For all those who suffer from glossophobia, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that it is possible to overcome this handicap. The bad news is that like many other fears, the only way to do it is by confronting it. While this may sound a little drastic, it needn't be. One may start with baby steps, like reading out poetry or a passage, and move on from there. The important thing is to constantly take the next step.

These steps can make a big difference in your journey of overcoming the fear of public speaking:
  1. Know your material. If you are giving a speech, what will assist you the most is knowing your material backwards. One big source of fear is that you will make a mistake, or that the audience will know more than you. This can be reduced by attaining mastery over your material. The objective here is not to enable you to rattle off the whole talk without pause or emotion, but to equip you to focus on other things, like eye contact. Once you start feeling comfortable, you can easily add spontaneity to your material.
  2. Focus on what you have to say. This may seem silly to point out, but while speaking to an audience, focusing on them can make one lose their train of thought. Allow your eyes to sweep over the audience, but keep your mind focused on what you have to say.
  3. Practice is another very important step that will get you comfortable before you go on stage. You can start by practicing alone and simply saying your speech aloud. Next, you could practice in front of a mirror. This is an excellent way to train yourself to keep your focus. Testing your speech on a friendly audience is another great option. You could also record your practice and play it back to make necessary improvements.
  4. Breathe! Anxiety and fear can make one take short, fast breaths. If you find this happening while you speak, then pause and take a deep breath. Every time you feel short of breath do this. It will calm you down a little, and your audience will not be able to tell a thing.
  5. Reduce the pressure on yourself by accepting that your speech doesn't have to be perfect. Try to put things in perspective and remember that your life won't fall apart if you stumble a few times. Most people, even professional speakers are never happy with their performance. Acknowledge that we are our own worst critics. Remind yourself that your audience does not intend to pick you apart, and most understand how hard it is to deliver a speech.
  6. Understand that a large number of people in the audience are sympathizers. The idea of giving a speech would petrify many of them too, and it is very likely that they are glad that it is you up there and not them. If you feel like it, you could open with, "Pardon my nerves, I am not used to this". Most audiences respond with patience and understanding.
  7. Humor works wonderfully to loosen you and your audience up. Seasoned speakers will agree that the best way to start a speech is with a joke, as long as it is not inappropriate in one's given situation. Ideally, interject one or two more into your talk, after equal intervals. Seeing your audience smile will reduce the stress on you, as well as make them more receptive.
With time, you will definitely come up with little techniques that work for yourself. With each speech that you give, you will learn something new, and gain a little more confidence. It takes courage to confront one's fears, to stand up on that podium, and to deliver that speech. But remember, victory comes to the brave.
By Marian K
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