You’ve probably heard at some point or another that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Throughout the years, studies of one variety of another have claimed to prove this statement. Whether or not it’s statistically accurate, the fact that the comparison is drawn goes a long way in illustrating just how terrifying most people find public speaking.
But in business, the ability to capture an audience – whether investors, stakeholders or staff – is of utmost importance. People follow those they perceive as confident and strong leaders. And while most people think they need to overcome their fear to be a great public speaker, the key is not to overcome the fear, it’s to minimize it.
Here are 5 ways to help dial down your fear when you head into a public speaking engagement.
1. Preparation is Key
This might seem obvious but there really is no replacement for preparation. If you go into a speaking engagement unprepared, it will be obvious to everyone in the room the moment you open your mouth.
You need to prepare and practice until you can present without having to reference your slides. Reading from your presentation directs your attention away from the audience, stifles your performance and makes your delivery sound and feel unnatural.
It’s also important to make sure your presentation is fully functional. For example, make sure any audio or visual is working well in advance and make sure you know how to get things to play when you need them to. You don’t want to be scrambling with things like this during your talk.
Last but not least, do a dry run of the material. Enlist a friend or two to act as your audience. Have them ask you questions and help you play out the toughest possible scenarios that could happen during your speech.
2. Be Realistic With Yourself
Take a step back from your fears and nerves and evaluate them based on which are realistic and which are not. For instance, the reality is that you’re unlikely to have somebody stand up and boo you during your speech no matter how much you believe they might. On the flip side, if you have a 150-page presentation for a half-hour talk, your fear of running out of time is pretty realistic.
Look at your fears impartially, decide whether or not they’re realistic and then deal with them accordingly. If they’re unrealistic, do your best to put them out of your mind and understand you’re just getting in your own head. If they’re somewhat realistic, assess a plan of action for how you’ll handle them if they do occur. And if they’re realistic, assess how you can act preemptively to avoid them.
3. Let Your Guard Down
As much as it might seem like your audience wants you to be an ultra-confident superhuman devoid of fear, this isn’t entirely true. There’s strength in vulnerability. Your audience isn’t just there for the information you’re conveying, they’re there to feel something as well. The key is for you to be connected to your material and allow your audience to connect with you. By showing them you’re a human with flaws who make mistakes, you allow them to connect more authentically both with you and what you’re talking about.
4. Be In the Moment
In a presentation, there’s a big difference between being there and being present. It’s easy to get in your own head, want it all to be over and not be entirely in the moment. But your audience follows what you’re thinking and feeling even more than what you’re saying and doing which means you need to be fully present to make a connection.
Find something that allows you to get present – whether before your presentation of during. Think of something you can do that can distract you from the nerves ahead of time and put you in a different state of mind. Or, if you’re in the midst of your presentation, allow yourself to slow down and be in the moment by feeling your feet on the ground, taking a deep breath and finding a friendly face in the audience to connect with.
5. Be Generous in Your Presentation
Being generous in your presentation doesn’t pertain to leaving a takeaway gift but rather the delivery of your information. The reason you’re presenting is that you have something that you want to share with your audience, and the reason they’re listening is because they want to walk away with something from it – an insight, an inspiration, a direction or an experience. Think of what it is that you want your audience to walk away with and what you think they want to take from your presentation and think of how you can tap into your passion in order to best share that with them. Approaching the presentation from this perspective might provide you with the confidence boost you need to put on your best performance.
Whether it’s a rational or an irrational fear, the fact is that public speaking is a scary and intimidating experience for most people. But by being prepared, being realistic, being human, being present and being generous, you can help minimize your fears and put on the best presentation possible.