In many surveys over the years, people have ranked the fear of public speaking as worse than the fear of dying! Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, networking for your business is going to involve public speaking. You may find yourself giving a sixty-second elevator pitch at a networking meeting, a ten-minute presentation at a chamber function, or a forty-minute educational presentation to a prospect.
The following 5 strategies are my top tips to help you lose your fear of public speaking and start winning over your audiences with confidence.
1) Prepare, prepare, prepare! Don’t wing it! Prepare an outline of what you want to say and practice it. Use note cards, or type your remarks out on a piece of paper. (Print with large handwriting or type in a large font–make it ridiculously easy to read so you don’t lose your place in the paragraph.) Don’t over-prepare though; this can just lead to more anxiety.
2) Be specific and talk about the things you know best. At networking meetings, don’t try to teach people everything you do in one short pitch. Think in terms of teaching the audience something of significance. Focus on just one or two areas of your business–the topics you feel you understand best. This will increase your comfort level and reduce stress.
3) Use handouts, visuals, or PowerPoint slides to support your presentation. If you’re worried about stage fright, props such as books, slides, handouts, or gadgets will help you keep your mind on your topic, add a special element of interest to your presentation, and give the audience something to concentrate on besides you. PowerPoint can be a great tool, but it becomes a noticeable crutch if you fall into the trap of reading from the slides. PowerPoint should support your presentation, not be your presentation. Read a few of the many books and articles available about how to effectively use PowerPoint.
4) Remember, you’re the expert. It’s true. In the eyes of the audience, you are the expert and they want to hear what you have to say. They’re eager to learn something from you. If you focus on what you know best, you will feel more confident and be more credible. Believe in yourself and in your message.
5) Be creative. Find a way to communicate that makes you comfortable. Instead of talking to a group, engage them in conversation; or start with Q & A, and then answer at length. Don’t be afraid to be different. Surprise your audience. Walk around the stage or up into the seats. People get tired of the same old approach and are invigorated by something unexpected. Have fun with your message; it will help you turn your nervous energy into positive energy. The audience will feel it and radiate it back to you, and before you know it, your anxiety is gone.
Here’s the deal . . . you can’t get better at something if you never practice it and the best time to start practicing is now. So, start this coming week off by looking for opportunities to practice the above tips. If you’re nervous, start small with your one-minute elevator pitch. Make it a point to fill the entire minute exactly. Work up to five-minute and ten-minute talks as you gain confidence. When you feel ready, look for an opportunity to make a lunchtime educational presentation. The program chairs of many associations and membership organizations are always on the lookout for speakers. Position yourself as the expert; enjoy the satisfaction of educating other people. When you remember to apply the tips in this strategy, we feel confident that it will alleviate much of your speaking anxiety. One final thought: It’s good to be a little nervous. Just convert that into positive energy, and you’ll have the audience in the palm of your hand.
I’m really interested in getting some feedback from all of you reading this blog, so please respond in the comment forum below to any or all of the following questions–and/or offer any thoughts related to overcoming the fear of public speaking. Thanks so much!
- On a scale of 1 — 10, 1 being “not really afraid” and 10 being “more afraid than death,” how afraid would you say you are of public speaking?
- What mental and physical manifestations of fear and anxiety do you experience when faced with having to speak in public?
- What tools/strategies/tactics have you personally found to be helpful and effective in managing your fear of public speaking. Alternately, what tools/strategies/tactics have you found to be useless or ineffective?