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How to tame the fear of public speaking?

You want your ideas to reach as many people as possible. But there is one thing that stands between you and your potential supporters – the fear of public speaking.

Fear is not real, it is a product of your imagination

Let´s get one thing straight – fear is not real. It is a construct of your imagination. Danger can be real, but fear is something you made up.

Evolutionarily fear is an ability we have developed to stay alive – if there was some dangerous animal that wanted to eat our ancestors, then their fear kicked in and prepared their body to run for their lives.

But how likely it is nowadays that some beast will want to attack you and eat you? Or the listeners of your speech would want to eat you? The act of fear is still programmed in our DNA as a survival mechanism. But we can tame that fear for our own good.

So the next time you step on the stage and feel the symptoms of fear, ask yourself: “Is this actually dangerous, or can I let go of my fear?”

But why do you actually feel the fear of public speaking?

Your heart pumping, legs shaking, dry mouth. These are some symptoms of fear. Your body is getting you ready for the stage the same way it is getting you ready to run away from a wild bear that wants to eat you. Pumping the blood to your muscles and injecting adrenaline to your blood stream.

To some extent this is actually good – it energizes you and gets you ready to be fully alive and awake on the stage. But excite too much and you become a faster runner, but not a better speaker.

So the next time you feel the anxiety kick in before going on stage, stop for a moment. Breathe deeply and affirm to your body: “Dear body, thank you for getting me excited for the speech. I can handle it from here. Let´s enjoy the show!”

If your mind made up the fear of public speaking, it can surely make up a way to tame it.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

Marie Curie

Turn your anxiety of  public speaking into excitement for public speaking

Fear and anxiety are actually our allies in making an energizing and powerful speech. The key is to direct the “fear energy” into “excitement energy”. Direct this energy to your listeners through your clear voice and words.

So instead of worrying “Oh no, I´m feeling fear!”, rather direct your inner talk to “Oh, I am excited to go on stage and perform!”

Direct your attention on serving the listeners. Focus on how you are helping them to improve their lives using the ideas and feelings transmitted through your speech. Once you attention moves from shaky hands to serving the listeners, the excessive fear fades.

Why am I on this stage giving this talk?

Being a professional public speaker for 12 years, I know one thing: the talk goes a lot smoother when I have a clear understanding of why I came on this stage and what is the message I want to deliver to the listeners.

When preparing your talk, think about these questions:

Why did I come to this stage?

What is the message I want to deliver?

Why this message matters?

What is the value that the listeners can derive from this message?

Why I am the right person to deliver this message now?

Once you have answers to these questions, you develop a stronger inner confidence for stepping on stage. You know what your message is and whatever happens, you´ll find a way to pass on that message. Bring your focus to your message and there won´t be room for fear.

But what if I find out that I actually should not be on that stage at all?

Are you afraid that you don´t have a powerful enough message to share with the listeners?

Well, just keep it short and pass on the ideas that are worth sharing.

Are you afraid that you don´t have anything new to share with the listeners?

Generate ideas, interview experts and mix those ideas into your talk.

Are you afraid that you are not the right person to cover the given topic?

If that really is the case, then be honest and recommend some better expert for the event organiser.

Are you afraid to look dumb or accidentally say something embarrassing?

Well, if you are talking about a completely new and original idea, then for some people it will sound dumb, because they are not able to grasp it, yet. But perhaps some other listeners do get positively excited about it.

Can we be liked by everyone?

Should we be liked by everyone?

Are you afraid that it might not be interesting enough for the listeners?

Learn to know who your listeners are – what they are curious about? Tell good stories and engage their imagination. Give the listeners an opportunity to ponder with you or talk with you. Turn listeners into participants.

Are you afraid that you might forget a line in your speech? Or what if there is an accident?

But what if nothing goes wrong?

If you do forget a line or segments, just casually continue or turn that little miss-spelling into a light “oops” joke and bring your focus back to your message.

Don´t expect it to be perfect – we are humans, we are not perfect, and that´s what makes us interesting and unpredictable. In reality most people will never notice that you forgot a line or segment in your talk. Usually the speaker himself is the only one concerned about it.

Ask yourself: what is it that I want people to remember from my talk?

Choose the ideas and stories that carry this message and speak in a way that the listeners would feel you message. They will remember the feeling.

Do make notes for your speech, but don´t read them while talking

When you were in school and preparing for tests, did you sometimes make these little notes about some important facts they were asking in the test?

Making notes has it´s benefits:

  1. It helps you think things through – with a limited space you have to figure out what is important.
  2. Having notes creates a safe zone – you know that if you should forget something, you can refer to notes.

Therefore do make notes on key elements of your speech. But leave those notes into your pocket or on a podium or stage corner. Because if you made good notes, you won´t need them – you remember the important things that you wrote down.

PS! It is ok to read a line from the notes if you have a specific quote or some form of short information that definitely has to be correctly said.

How to train your courage to speak publicly?

Every speech you give is an opportunity to train your courage to speak publicly. Find a safe and supportive environment, stand up and deliver. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Group works – discussing topics in a larger group and expressing your ideas and opinions.
  • Presenting the results of group works on seminars – it is less frightening to present “the ideas of our group” than “my ideas”, because your group members have already approved that these are ideas worth sharing.
  • Debating and public speaking clubs where you can practice speaking and receive feedback from others.
  • Choirs, dancing groups – activities in which you can perform with a big group. This way you can become accustomed to be on stage, but not having to worry about being on spotlight.
  • Public speaking trainings – an opportunity to simulate situations and get feedback for your performance. I often provide video feedback on my public speaking trainings to help participants objectively evaluate their performance and find ways to improve it.

After your presentation don´t just focus on what went wrong, but ask yourself:

“What went well?”

“How can I improve this talk the next time?”

When training your public speaking skills, be kinder to yourself. Don´t expect perfection.

If you´re just starting out with public speaking, don´t compare yourself to other professional speakers, because they have years of experience training their public speaking skills and improving their talks with countless number of times they have stepped on stage. You can draw inspiration and ideas from them, but do not compare yourself to them.

The professional public speakers reached the point they are at, because they did not allow the fear of public speaking to get on their way of becoming a great speaker.

They trained themselves to become a better speaker.

But what if I get a total blank out on the stage? How should I handle that blank out?

Should it happen that you experience the moment on the stage where you forget your lines and don´t know what to say next, then the first thing to do is: breathe.

Bring your attention to your breathing – breathe deeply in a relaxing pace. While doing it, you may smile and relax, not to take the situation too seriously.

You can also think of a calming mantra that helps to calm your mind and let go of fear. Such as:

“I can do it!”

“All I need is available within me.”

“Breathe in and relax, breathe out and smile.”

“This too shall pass and all will be well.”

Then bring your attention to the message you want to deliver to your listeners and find a way towards that message.

It helps if you know well these 3 components of your talk:

  1. How to begin to attract attention?
  2. What is my main message and key points I want to deliver?
  3. How do I want to close my talk in a memorable way?

If you remember your closing and nothing else comes to mind, you can just head for the closing lines and wrap up your talk.

If things do not turn out as you expected, there is one affirmation that helps me to move forward:

All that happens is part of my journey of development.

In other words: if you lose, don´t lose a lesson.

What do you need so that you could publicly speak with courage?

The fear of public speaking is our ally, once we tame it for the good of our performance.

If you need to speak publicly and you want to speak well, but are afraid of the act of public speaking, then just go and speak publicly as much as possible. This way you fully understand that public speaking is not dangerous.

Begin with smaller groups and simpler announcements. Every time you do something that scares you, you grow the courage in you. Because you become to realise that it is not dangerous. It is exciting.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Join the discussion – what are your takeaways from this article and is there something you want to clarify or ask so that you could speak with courage?