Manage the Fear of Public Speaking: 5 Pro Tips

Public Speaking Tips

You have the privilege to speak in front of an audience.

That means you have a chance to positively impact others’ thoughts or emotions, improve your reputation, profile or authority and it’s a great way to get a step ahead.

On the other hand . . . you have to speak in front of an audience.

If you are like most people that means nervousness, sleepless nights, and tachycardia (palpitations for some).

I’ve heard many professional speakers say, “People’s greatest fear is the fear of public speaking, that means they’d rather be dead then speak in front of a group!” It’s usually good for a laugh but I believe the fear people experience is really worry about potentially making a fool of themselves.

To help you manage some of that ‘worry,’ here are 5 tips to prevent you from making a fool of yourself:

Let’s start with the Don’ts

1.    Don’t Memorize

Some people falsely believe that in order to not make a fool of themselves, they need to memorize their speech. It seems somewhat logical however what happens when you memorize your speech is you are ‘in your head’ for the speech and not present for the audience. When I first started speaking, I memorized my speeches. The feedback I received was, “We just heard ‘Speaker Barb,’ we want to connect with the real Barb.”

When you memorize your speech, you are constantly trying to remember your next line. This takes you out of the moment and prevents audience connection.

2.    Don’t Read

Reading your speech is similar to memorizing your speech but it involves powerpoint slides. I’m referring to those slides that have countless bullet points and the speaker thinks, as an audience member, you can’t read so they decide to read every bullet point and … well that’s all they do, is read the bullet points. You know the result of that = boring and no audience connection. Speaking is connecting with the audience, showing your personality and bringing life to the content.

3.    Don’t Worry

Mark Twain says, “There are two types of speakers – those who get nervous and those who are liars.” Don’t worry about your nervousness – everyone has it. One of the main reasons people get nervous about speaking in front of a group is because they care about the message they are giving and they care about the audience receiving value.

I like to take a page from Bruce Springsteen’s playbook and re-label my nervousness as excitement – you have to admit they feel really similar. Instead of saying to myself “I’m so nervous,” I say “I’m excited to do this.” And it helps!

Now for the Do’s

4.    Practice, Practice …

And then practice some more. I can’t tell you how many people think they can ‘wing it’ and it turns out . . . they can’t. To be a good effective speaker, you have to practice. Other than a few chosen few (and I don’t know any of them), professional speakers and people who want to positively impact an audience practice their speeches and talks. Here’s the most important point, they practice out loud, not just in their head. We all sound really good in our heads however when we begin to speak out loud, we aren’t nearly as good as we thought we were. That means practice out loud.

Practicing out loud also lets you focus in on your timing. As you practice your speech, mark down the times of where you need to be at 10 minutes, 20 minutes etc.  This prevents the slow start and accelerated ending speakers do when they realize they are way behind time.

5.    Do Be You

There are a lot of great public speakers you may want to mimic … but don’t. Learn from watching and listening to these speakers but don’t try to impersonate them or be like them. Develop your own style, the style that let’s you be you. The audience want to connect to you. In order to develop your own style, learn something about yourself or your style each time you speak – what worked, what didn’t work? Take time to reflect on how you can be better.

And one bonus suggestion . . .

6.    Find Friendly Faces

I know you’ve seen the person yawning in the audience and worried your content was too dry. Early on in my speaking career, I got focused on someone who looked really defensive in one of my presentations (arms/legs crossed, frowning). I was convinced she hated what I was saying. At the end of the presentation she approached me and I thought, “Oh no, here it comes,” but instead she said, “That was a really good presentation!” I was so surprised. I actually said, “Really? I thought you hated it.” She said, “No, I was just thinking and I always sit with my arms and legs crossed.” Go figure.

Find friendly faces in your audience – those people who nod, smile and ‘lean in’ to your presentation. Focus on those folks. They are the ones that will calm your nerves.

Put these five tips (+ 1 bonus tip) to use and your fear of public speaking will be a distant memory. Ok, maybe not a distant memory but rather a memory you are distancing yourself from – how’s that for a re-phrase?

Learn, Laugh, Share

Barb Langlois RN, BSN, MSN

All Pro Advanced Toastmasters