Have you ever been in front of an audience ready to give a speech, and then, all of a sudden, you freeze? Or you lose your voice? Have your palms started sweating uncontrollably?
Studies have shown that one of the biggest fears we experience as human beings is none other than public speaking. This fear might be hindering your personal and professional life.
I was a teacher for nine years, and was very afraid of speaking to new groups of students because my voice was very high pitched and it made me extremely nervous; I thought I was constantly being judged because of it. It was very difficult in the beginning but ultimately preparing myself and my topics better eventually made it easier. Nowadays, I feel more confident when I’m in front of an audience.
The fear of public speaking is very real. Fortunately, there are many techniques that can help you overcome this fear.
While preparing yourself for a speech remember this fundamental questions:
What do you want your audience to feel after you talk, what do you want them to do after you’re done, and what do you want them to think of your message? A speech needs to have a strong beginning with an introduction and an ending that’s a reminder of what you’re trying to convince them to do.
Here are some techniques that can help you with your fear of public speaking: Preliminary (How to prepare for your speech), Center stage (What to do when you are giving your speech); the Follow-up (What do you want your audience to do after you finish)
Organize Yourself: Organizing your thoughts and tools can help you get your train of thought clear. How do you this? Write it all down, even if it’s a mess. Getting your ideas out is a good first step. Focusing on writing can help you have a clearer vision of what your speech would look like and you can edit out the things that feel out of place. You can reduce your anxiety by doing it.
Know your topic: Research. If you are doing a presentation at school or in front of a room full of important business people, you have to know your topic really well. Prepare your argument with care and emphasize on what you consider most important. Try to inject a bit of your personal experience to make it more approachable, e.g. I used to talk about my experience as a student and my experience as a foreign language assistant to my students and how those things prepared me to teach.
Prepare yourself and practice. Do it in front of a mirror, you might feel like a fool doing so, but guess what? You’ll be able to see your expressions and gestures (remember body language is also an essential part of communication) and modify what you think is off.
Share. Share your speech with someone else: a significant other, your friends, your parents, your pet. Ask them to be completely honest on what they hear, they might find ways to help you improve it. Record your voice or yourself in a video, depending on what is it that you need feedback on.
Did I mention PRACTICE? Public speaking is like riding a bike. At first, you’ll be very afraid of screwing it up but once you get more confident it will come to you smoothly.
Posture. Before you go in front of your audience try some different postures: Stand tall and imagine there is a cord going from the top of your head to the tip of your toes; or, do the “Wonder Woman” pose. You know, hands on your hips standing tall. This posture is known to increase the levels of testosterone and make you feel powerful. It will help you face your audience in a different way. Avoid nervous habits like hand twitching, waltz dancing (rocking from left to right) or the happy feet dance.
Move around: Audiences tend to lose interest after a five minute speech. Moving around the stage or room, will give them a chance to hear your voice from a different angle and make them follow you with their sight. You can also use it when you want them to see an image (video or chart) you have on a screen. This will keep your listeners focused on what you say.
Get rid of the fear of rejection: “What if they don’t like what I say?” “Am I saying the right things?” Those were some of the issues I struggled the most with, while being in front of an audience. People are giving you their attention for a reason, so that gives you validation and a reason to feel less insecure
Hydrate yourself. Drinking water (at room temperature) during your speech can help you lubricate your throat and make it easier to speak. Avoid sugary drinks before a speech, these tend to dry out the throat.
Q&A. Don’t be afraid of taking questions from your audience, that would make you more secure of what you are doing and it will help you know if the message you were trying to get across did.
Feedback. Ask for it. Do it thru a survey, a form or ask your audience to send you an email. Feedback can help you better yourself and grow.
These are some of the tips that have helped me improve my public speaking skills, you might find some of them goofy, some might work and some might fail completely. See which ones work best for you.
A final note:
After all my years in teaching, this is my biggest advice: Practice! I didn’t become a public speaker because of my voice. I took my strengths and ran with them. Took my flaws, and worked to improve them. The better you know yourself and your topics, the better prepared you’ll be to get in front of an audience and transmit what you need them to know.
I haven’t been in front of a class for a couple of years now, but the things I learned to overcome my fear of speaking up have helped me in my development both personally and professionally. I have learned to speak up when needed and how to organize my ideas in order to get my points across. There’s no reason to fear public speaking when you are in control.
I’ll leave you with this tongue twister: Prior Proper Practice Prevents Poor Performance.
Luis Hernandez Blanco
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