How to Make Public Speaking Less Terrifying

By Kat Tretina on 22 March 2017 0 comments

Your ability to speak in public can be critical as you climb the corporate ladder. Struggling with anxieties about speaking in public can affect how your peers and other professionals view you, as well as limit your career opportunities down the line.

Speaking with poise shows that you are confident, knowledgeable, and can handle pressure — all important qualities for a professional (especially a manager) to have. And handling questions after a speech, for example, shows how quickly you can think on your feet and how well you know the subject matter.

If you cannot present confidently, or maybe you even skip speaking opportunities altogether, you miss your chance to showcase your skills. That gives others the chance to shine instead. Your fear of public speaking may be putting others in line for promotions ahead of you.

Many careers consider presentation skills part of the basic job requirements. As you grow in your career, that becomes more common. Don't let this fear threaten to derail your professional life.

Improving your speaking abilities

For millions of people, public speaking is their number one fear. If you are one of them, there are ways you can conquer your fear. Below are four strategies you can use to help master speaking in front of others.

1. Books

If you struggle with anxiety and speaking in public, self-help books may offer some relief. Many people swear by Dale Carnegie's The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. This book has helpful strategies on how to become more confident as a presenter and techniques on overcoming nerves before a big presentation.

2. Study what works

If you don't know where to start, study what works well for others. Look for speakers who speak well; they can be people within your workplace or professional speakers who perform in front of thousands. By studying what makes them engaging, such as their body language, volume, and presentation style, you can adapt their best practices into your own speeches.

Watching popular TED talks on subjects that interest you can provide fantastic inspiration, too. There are a wide range of topics and speaker styles, so you're sure to find something you can learn from.

3. Toastmasters

Toastmasters is one of the most well-known professional workshops out there. By joining a Toastmasters' club, you can practice public speaking in a relaxed, safe environment. You'll get tips and constructive criticism from polished professionals and experts, helping you hone your skills and get more comfortable at the front of the room.

4. Virtual reality

I tried a range of techniques to overcome my fear, including joining Toastmasters and reading dozens of books, but the most effective technique for me was virtual reality. While there are a number of apps and platforms available now, one of the biggest and most popular is Speech Center for VR.

Speaking in front of a large group is difficult to prepare for; practicing in front of an empty room, while helpful in ensuring you know the material, doesn't ready you for presenting in front of dozens or — gulp — hundreds.

Speech Center for VR is an app that uses virtual reality to make it seem like you're speaking in front of hundreds of people. There are different scenarios to choose from and virtual coaches that provide feedback, such as on your movement, eye contact, or voice level.

While I felt ridiculous wearing the headset at first, I found it really helped me get more comfortable presenting to large groups. And it gave me good feedback on using the space available to me and modulating my speaking voice. Within a few sessions, I was still nervous, but I felt prepared and able to give a speech without getting sick.

Tips for making a great speech

When it comes to actually giving a speech, here are a few tips to help you through it.

1. Speak louder than you think is necessary

When people are nervous, they tend to speak quickly or softly. This can give you the appearance of timidity or unpreparedness. If you speak one level louder than you think is a normal presentation voice, you will naturally slow your speech and sound more authoritative and confident.

2. Breathe

If you tend to rush, force yourself to take a deep breath after each sentence. This will make your words sound more purposeful, while helping keep your nerves in check. And taking a moment to take a breath will also eliminate the need for filler sounds, such as "um."

3. Hold a prop

For some, one of the most challenging aspects of speaking is what to do with their hands. Having a prop, even something as simple as holding a pen, can make you feel more relaxed and natural.

4. Know the material inside and out

One of the biggest public speaking fears is forgetting what you need to say. To combat that, practice the material until you know it by heart. That's not to say you should memorize the whole thing, but you should know the key stats and progression of talking points.

5. Find a friendly face

Making eye contact can be challenging when you're nervous or intimidated. Identify two or three friendly faces in the crowd to look at during key moments of the speech. That can give the illusion of making natural eye contact, while giving you encouragement to keep going.

6. Keep it simple

When writing a speech, it can be easy to use elaborate, wordy prose. But that can make it difficult to present naturally. Instead, use simple terms and short sentences to make it more engaging and understandable.

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