Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

By Dana Bristol-Smith

Knocking knees, butterflies (who came up with that word?) in your stomach, sweaty palms, quavering voice. We've all been there - some of us more than others. I'm going to share with you some of the tricks of the trade to help manage and reduce your anxiety before and during your presentation. These methods are tried and true and have helped many presenters.

The first time is always the worst and it gets better from there.
In 1991, I gave my first presentation to a large audience. My audience was 150 fifth and six grade students in an outside courtyard of an elementary school. I was scheduled to give a 35-minute student assembly that explained a collection of international artifacts (masks, musical instruments, hats, and other interesting items). It was a program designed to increase multicultural understanding. I was so fired up about the topic, and thought that it was such an important subject that I thought I could deliver the program.

Well, of course everything went wrong! The wind picked up and knocked some of the items off the display table (the kids thought this was funny, I didn't). The microphone had that horrible screeching feedback. My knees shook the whole time, my voice quavered, my heart pounded - and I felt like it was going on forever. I got through my content somehow and looked at my watch. I gave a 35-minute presentation in 15-minutes! I think that I probably forgot to breathe.

After packing up my items and loading them in my car, I collapsed in the driver's seat. When my heart starting beating normally, I had a realization. My realization was that I did deliver the program, yes-terribly, but I did finish it and it would probably never again be that bad. From that point on, I learned something from every program I gave; how to keep the audience engaged, how to test AV equipment BEFORE I started, how to breathe normally and speak at the same time. The list goes on and on. In three years, I delivered this program to more than 100,000 students and teachers.

Today, I help adults develop the skills of public speaking. It seems that everyone has some degree of nervousness or anxiety. What I know is that you can live through those feelings and that over time they get easier and easier to deal with. Give these strategies a try and see if they will help you too.

How about having a conversation?
Use your mental energy to think of your next presentation as a conversation. You have conversations all day, every day! Do you get nervous before a conversation? Most conversations are non-threatening experiences, just a way for two or more people to communicate something. How is a presentation different than that? Try to think of your presentation as a conversation, just with a few more people. See if that eases your mind and nerves.

Make some new friends in the audience.
Most people are nervous in front of an audience of strangers. What would happen if you had a friend in the audience, or a group of friends? Would you feel more comfortable? Next time you have to give a presentation to a group you don't know - do something revolutionary! Introduce yourself, shake hands, and greet as many of the audience as possible before your talk begins. That way, when you're standing in the front of the room looking out, it is no longer a sea of strangers, but a friendly group, because you met some of the people first. You'll want to find them in the audience and make eye contact, and it won't be too hard, because they'll probably be smiling at you.

Put yourself in your audience's shoes for a moment. Imagine that you are attending a special seminar at work. How would you feel if before the seminar, the speaker took a moment to introduce herself to you? Would you be a more receptive listener to what she had to say? I bet your answer is yes!

How about smiling?
Smiling has a physiological affect on us - it helps to calm our nerves and make us feel better. It also has the added bonus of making us appear more pleasant, comfortable and happy - definite positive characteristics of a presenter. Often times, the audience will mirror the expression of the presenter. So guess what happens when you smile? You got it; your audience will be more likely to smile back at you.

Let's review.
You've just learned some simple, yet effective, techniques to help reduce and manage nervousness while giving a presentation. I challenge you to try them out and see if they work for you. Remember to:

  1. Have a conversation with your audience.
  2. Make some new friends before your presentation.
  3. SMILE! It just might prove infectious and make you feel a whole lot more at ease!
  4. Learn from every presentation you give and you'll see that it does get easier and easier.

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies who want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. She is a professional speaker and trainer who has survived stage fright and is passionate about helping others get past the fears and discomfort of public speaking. She works with the private and public sector and has delivered presentations and training to more than 100,000 people since 1992. Some of her clients include Agouron Pharmaceuticals a Pfizer Company, Honeywell Aerospace, Prescription Solutions, Regional Training Center, San Diego Workforce Partnership, and many City and County agencies.
Contact her at: dana@speakforsuccess.net
Visit: www.speakforsuccess.net


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