Mark Twain once said, “There are 2 types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”
Preston Ni, author and communications coach, explained that fear of speaking in public is the most popular (or dreaded) phobia. He believed more people are afraid of addressing an audience of potential listeners than they are of death.
My first experience on stage was with a baton when I was five years old. As I grew up, I wanted something more meaningful than the experience of standing on a stage – I wanted to deliver a powerful message that inspired others. Until a car accident in 2004.
I walked away from the accident without any scrapes or bruises. Throughout the following week, I my speech slurred, I struggled to maintain balance as I walked, and I had difficulty tracking conversations. After I lost feeling on the left side of my body, I learned I had a concussion. My body healed, but I struggled during conversations as a result of short-term memory loss.
I developed a paralyzing fear of public speaking. I was not afraid to address an audience; I was afraid of forgetting in front of an audience. I had no idea how I was going to pursue my passion to inspire others if I was afraid to speak in front of a group of people.
In his book, How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People, Ni describes confidence-building suggestions that will empower you with courage you need to step in front of a group with confidence. His tips include:
1. Don’t Expect Perfection from Yourself
“Some of us tend to kick ourselves over every little perceived mistake we make,” states Ni. “We magnify our imperfections, while ignoring all that’s good and well.” Even the best, most experienced speakers make mistakes. When they do, they recover. They continue. And all is well. The ability to move on, despite mistakes, is key to a successful delivery. The audience is blissfully unaware of mistakes – unless you confess your speaking sins to them. Carry on with poise.
2. Don’t Compare Public Speaking to Your Self-Worth
Ni insists, “Public speaking is only a small part of your overall professional ability.” Your ability to speak in front of an audience has nothing to do with your value as a person. Public speaking is a skill that you can learn (or, in my case, re-learn) and master with practice.
3. Avoid Being Nervous About Your Nervousness
Singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen admits his nervousness pumps up the energy and excitement of every performance. The legendary artist channels anxiety into power on stage. Speakers who lack confidence often feel nervous. When you focus on your fear, your public speaking anxiety escalates. “Nervousness is our adrenaline flowing,” explains Ni. “It’s a form of energy.” Successful speakers make this energy work for them and turn nervousness into enthusiasm, engagement, and charisma. “It’s okay to be nervous,” adds Ni.
4. Don’t Try to Memorize Every Word
There is no need to memorize every word of a speech. Ni warns that attempting to memorize your speech can increase stress and cause greater nervousness, especially if you forget some of the words.
If you prepare and practice your speech using an outline, your delivery will have a more natural flow and your words will sound more sincere. Andrew Dlugan, founder of Six Minutes, shares speech outline templates you may find helpful as you compose your presentation.
5. Speak to Your Audience
Avoid reading your presentation word for word from a script or PowerPoint presentation. “Dry reading disseminates information, often at the risk of the audience tuning out,” adds Ni. The art of public speaking creates impact with your content and your personality. People who read excessively from a script reduce their credibility.
“What do I talk about?” is a common question and one that you will answer as you consider the subject matter you are invited to address. Bryan Caplovitz, founder of SpeakerMatch, encourages speakers to consider these questions before you develop an outline and deliver your speech:
* Who is your audience?
* What is their level of expertise on your subject?
* What do they want to know?
* What do they expect from you?
* What do they want or need?
* How will they be changed by your message?
* What is your call-to-action?
Caplovitz encourages speakers to learn as much as you can about your audience. Tailor your comments and reflections to the group. Investigate the group’s website. How can you align your message with their mission and vision? Read association literature, newspaper articles, and magazine features about the group.
On the day of your speech, Caplovitz encourages you to arrive early and initiate friendly, informal conversations with individual audience members. He adds, “You can often gain useful, up-to-date information about the immediate mood and concerns of the audience from these one-on-one conversations.”
In order to reclaim my confidence and overcome my public speaking anxiety, I had to face my fear. I had to step back on the stage and stand in front of the audience. And speak. And do it again. And do it again. I learned how to face my fear with the heart of a lion. I learned that my story about overcoming fear of public speaking connected me at a deeper level with my listeners.
Speakers sharpen the tools of our craft in community with others. I joined Toastmasters International. I joined the National Speakers Association. I became a more confident speaker through the valuable feedback and encouragement I received from other speakers.
Most importantly, I refused to be controlled by fear.
Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” When you make a decision to take on a challenge (no matter how afraid you feel inside), fear no longer has power over you. You become courageous!
“I believe we all have a lot to say,” explains Criss Jami, poet and author of Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile. “but finding ways to say it is more than half the battle.”
How did you overcome fear of speaking in public?
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Good speakers transform challenges into opportunities. I share my experiences about what it’s like to be “LD” in my TEDxYouth talk.