Personal Development

The Irrational Fear of Public Speaking and 10 Ways to Overcome It

Written by Farnoosh Brock

There is an enormous fear associated with public speaking that is nothing short of a mythical phenomenon. It is listed as people’s Number 1 Fear in life, even above dying!

I call it irrational because when you are standing up in front of an audience, any audience, if you think about it quite logically, there is no threat to your life nor is there any risk to your safety. You are in fact in presence of golden opportunity on each occasion.

public_speakingThere are many possible outcomes of this occasion but let’s just consider the extremes. The worst outcome is that you do not acknowledge this golden opportunity at all (and you still survive the occasion unscathed!) The best outcome, however, is that you completely exploit the opportunity to your advantage, you learn something, you impact someone, you deliver a message, you make a difference, and you walk away fulfilled, energized and jazzed to do it all over again.

In this post, I am going to focus on achieving the latter outcome.

Between us, standing in front of a crowd and furthermore speaking to them can be terrifying and it’s easier to avoid it than to face it. But the thing is this, you cannot afford to avoid it. You realize you would be crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity when you fully understand the enormous benefits of developing sharp and polished communication skills.

This applies to everyone from every walk of life. Whoever you may be, whatever career or non-career path you may have, whatever your aspirations and goals or place in life, you come in contact with people and the ability to clearly and professionally express yourself to the society and the world around you is invaluable. It sets you apart immediately because believe it or not, this skill is not the norm in our society.

From one who was petrified and speechless at her first Toastmasters club meeting in 2003, to one who still gets nervous with butterflies but can manage her energy better now, I share with you the 10 Best Ways to help you manage that irrational fear and boost your Public Speaking to the levels of a Professional:

1. Keep it Professional: How should you behave and what personality should you assume on stage? Be your true self yet always remain professional in all your manners and your language. The audience may be casual and the setting may be relaxed but avoid getting too comfortable and remember you are the center of attention. With a professional and sincere presence, you can establish an immediate trust and respect between you and your audience.

2. Watch your Stance and Posture: Your stance, the position and bearing of the body while standing, will send a strong message about your self-confidence and credibility as a speaker. Have a confident stance with legs slightly apart and hands by your sides unless gesturing. Assume good posture by standing tall with shoulders pulled slightly back and arms relaxed. Don’t rock from side to side, dance, fidget, lean on one leg, put hands in pockets, fix your hair, stoop over a table or a chair while speaking. Don’t hide behind a podium or a chart or your notes. Be your best, tallest, most confident self.

3. Make Solid Eye Contact: This one is a difficult one and comes with practice but you should develop a solid eye contact as a good speaker. Eye contact means that you are talking and connecting with the audience on individual level. Avoid talking to the ceiling or the floor or your presentation slides (it could work fine if you are looking at the presentation to gather your thoughts but then speak to your audience). Make sure you are not darting your eyes or looking over your audience rather than at them. You are there to speak to them. To each and every one of them. Focused eye contact can give you a noticeable leverage in your speech and drive your message home well, one person at a time.

4. Leave your Hands at your Side: The hardest lesson which seems the most awkward is to have your hands at your sides when you are not gesturing. But that is where they belong. A professional speaking coach taught us this in a class years ago and if you video and watch yourself, you will see that hands at your side is indeed the most professional and naturally makes the gestures the most effective. Avoid fidgeting with your hands, making spider hands or Velcro hands or putting them in your pocket. Relax them at your side unless you are gesturing to make a point.

5. Use the Right words and No More: Thomas Jefferson once said “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” How smart and yet difficult to do. Think about the words you use. Enunciate them clearly. Be concise and to the point. Do not use more when less will do. You are up here because you have something to say, a message, a call to action. You are here to inspire or motivate or bring awareness. So use the time that is given to you well. Don’t over complicate it. Speak in simple terms and with sincerity. Avoid jargon and filler words such as “ah”, “uhm”, “like” , “so”, “and”, “you know” and while it may be awkward at first, you will sound polished and coherent to your listeners.

6. Remember to Use Pauses: There are few things with more impact on the listener in a speech than a well-placed pause. A pause that follows a call to action, a touching story you just shared, a key point in your overall message. A pause is not long, 2-3 seconds is more than enough yet it seems like an eternity of silence. Make friends with that silence and allow your listener to digest your strong messages and catch up and come along for the rest of the ride.

7. Practice Slow and Deep Breathing: There is nothing more natural than taking a quiet deep breath It relaxes you and your listeners. and Your Voice to speaking clearly, professionally, and with Purpose: Take a breath when you get nervous. Breathing brings out your voice. Your voice is your ally, your medium, your best friend. It delivers your message and connects with your audience.

8. Memorize your Beginning. They have quoted Plato to have said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work”. And so it is with public speaking. The first words you express will make a lasting impression (that impression thing, again!). I highly recommend that you memorize your beginning and practice it well beforehand. It may also be good practice to end with the same message to bring everything back full circle and remind your listeners the purpose of your talk.

9. Do not Apologize for Everything: If you forget something, or if you repeat something, or simply feel unprepared, do your best but do not apologize as it brings attention to something that must have gone wrong. Audience usually never notices until your apology which then brings it to surface.

It is all in the delivery.

10. Feign Confidence Til It Comes: In an advanced public speaking in California years ago, the instructor surprised us with this advice. “Fake your confidence until it becomes real!” If you are nervous, hide it with deep breathing, a smile and all previous 9 tips. It is imperative that you assume the position of a confident speaker for your listeners for them to trust you implicitly and immediately. This is not to be confused with deceiving your audience. It simply means appearing confident and truthful on what you know and admitting with the same confidence yet a humbling attitude to what you may not know, with assurance that you will learn the answer to follow back up with them.

Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.“ – A favorite quote which I leave you with, adding that I sincerely hope you do not allow the irrational fear of speaking to be such a impediment to your bright presence and future.

Do you share in the fear of public speaking? Have you used any of these tips or care to share your thoughts on what has worked for you?

About the author

Farnoosh Brock

Farnoosh Brock is a multi-passionate entrepreneur, author, speaker, and business coach. She started her own media and publishing company Prolific Living after a successful career in corporate America. Today, she teaches professionals either how to advance up the corporate ladder or start and grow their own profitable businesses. Learn more at www.prolificliving.com