How to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking

If you’re like most people in the world, your stomach may lurch at the very thought of having to stand in front of an audience and make a speech or do a presentation.

But what if I told you those feelings are completely normal? Studies conducted on the subject of people’s biggest fears have concluded that most people rank public speaking as their number one fear. What’s more, some of the most successful people in the world started their careers with crippling public speaking anxiety but were able to overcome their fear. Do the names Warren Buffet, Joel Osteen, Mahatma Gandhi, Jerry Seinfeld or Abraham Lincoln ring any bells? These are just a few of the household names who, like many, shared this fear.

So how could someone who was so petrified of public speaking not only conquer their fear but turn it into the very tool used to realise their dreams?

Back to the Beginning

Let’s start with a little background. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our very survival depended on fitting in with social groups. Evolutionarily speaking, this means that it is deeply ingrained in our psyche to want to be liked and accepted and to fear judgement and rejection. Even today, it goes against our primitive instincts to stand out from the crowd, because then we are alone and vulnerable to attack.

Nowadays, instead of being afraid of being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger, we fear the judgement and scrutiny of the group we stand before.

But because this fear of judgment and desire for acceptance is so deeply fixed in us, it’s important to acknowledge that overcoming your fear doesn’t mean that it will ever go away completely. The trick is to get better managing it, rather than try to eliminate it.

Here are some helpful tips to help calm your nerves:

Preparation

Make sure you are organised and prepared. Try not to focus on perfection, but rather keep things simple for you and your audience. Work on simple patterns and sentences, keeping the material easy to present and as easy to understand.

Refocus

Remind yourself you are not here to fight for your life and realign your mind with rational thoughts and slow, deep breaths. Don’t be afraid to use frequent pauses to assist you in regrouping. Remember that our audience is there to listen to you for a reason – not rooting for you to fail.

Practise, Practise, Practise

Recite your material in the shower, in the car, in the mirror. Watching yourself is one of the most helpful tricks to improve your speaking. Focus on your facial expressions, your pronunciation and your eye contact. It is important to connect with your audience and keep them interested.

Record yourself and practise on another person. We can be our own worst critics, so it’s so helpful to practice on another person to get their feedback as well.

The only real way of overcoming any fear is to face it often. Your thoughts only have the power you allow them, so use your fear as the tool of choice to unlock your true potential!