| skip to content
|Tel :: 01905 358 253 ::||home contact us sitemap downloads|
Training Course Outlines
Assertive Communication Skills
Creating a great
Solutions to the Fear of Public Speaking
There really are studies which claim that people fear public speaking more than serious injury, or even death! Fear of public speaking is very, very common. Some people are so very frightened by the prospect of speaking in public that they abandon career choices or quit jobs rather than face this particular fear. What makes people so very fearful regarding public speaking? Is it possible to get over this nervousness about public speaking? How do you deal with being terrified of public speaking when it may actually be part of your job?
Would it surprise you to know that those you see speak calmly and confidently in public may once also have been terrified by the idea of public speaking? It's true. Very few of us were born with an innate ability to stand in front of a group of strangers (or even friends!) and express ourselves effectively to that group. Once you accept and believe that the great public speakers were not born that way, it becomes clear that this is a learned skill. And if they can learn it, you can learn it.
Let's start with why people are so afraid of speaking in public. There may be people who have significant speech problems, and are concerned about being understood. There may also be those who have physical abnormalities so severe that they feel the audience will focus only on those. But these folks are in the minority. What I'd like to address are people in the general population who have a very real, but seemingly unfounded, fear of public speaking. Where does this come from? For many people, it's a fear of not being able to adequately say what they want to say to the audience, who will then look at them as somehow sub-human. For others, it's an awful fear that they will not be able to answer questions, that they don't know the material well enough, that they will somehow look "stupid," and that they will make fools of themselves. And these are all very real fears, and all very human fears.
How do you help people get over fears like this? Have you ever read about or watched documentaries about phobias? These may be fear of flying, fear of insects, fear of crowds, or fear of any of dozens of other things we encounter day in and day out. Fear of heights is so common that most people don't even think of it as anything at all out of the ordinary. And it may not be! There are reasons to be afraid of flying, of insects, perhaps even of crowds, or of being high up in the air. These things can all be dangerous, right? So why do so many people fear public speaking just as much as some others fear insects, dogs, or heights? I don't pretend to be a psychologist, but I know from my own experience that it was mostly a fear of looking like an idiot, of stumbling over my words, of appearing unprepared, and of "failing" at my presentation which used to make me fearful of speaking in public. But I conquered that fear, and I can show you how to conquer it as well.
My secret weapon against the fear of public speaking is preparation. I realized that most of my fears centred around things going wrong during the presentation. These could be anything from the equipment malfunctioning to ME malfunctioning! But I found that if I made sure all was well before the presentation even started, the presentation went well virtually every time. I even had a check-list for presentations at the beginning of my career. One item on the list was the room itself. I went to the room, worked all the equipment, made sure I knew how it would be set up physically, and learned where all the switches were located. I also learned about my audiences. I knew their experience level, whether they were interested in being there or not, and I was able to answer the "What's in it for me?" question my audience would have. In other words, I knew what relevance the information I had to present would have to my audience. I also checked my clothes---zippers, buttons, and other potential clothing mal-function candidates. I have also found that writing a presentation over several days is far preferable to dashing it all off in one afternoon. I don't really understand why, but when you come back to your presentation draft the next day, you almost always see ways to improve it greatly.
Now, this is the part you probably won't like. But it will be invaluable to you in becoming an excellent presenter. You must practice your presentation. And you must practice your presentation in front of a mirror. And if at all possible, you must have a friend or family member film you doing your presentation. Why all the fuss? Well, you will be amazed when you listen to a sound recording of a presentation you are giving for the first time. You will hear, "um, er, and ah" over and over again, even though you don't remember saying these "words" at all. Then when you watch yourself presenting, you will see even more room for improvement. You may have been completely unaware of the fact that you were jingling the coins in your pocket throughout the presentation, but the camera doesn't lie. You may also discover that you actually don't ever look at your audience, or that you have your back to your audience a significant amount of the time. Oddest of all, you may watch this tape and think it's probably someone else who just looks like you. Really! You will be surprised that you do not seem nearly as nervous and terrified on tape as you thought you felt while delivering your presentation.
So what do you do now that you've witnessed all your little quirks? Start with the simple stuff. Vow never to have change in your pocket when you present. Make a conscious effort to maintain eye contact with your audience. Check that clothing before you step in front of an audience. If you need a microphone, get one. Make sure you know the room and are comfortable with all the equipment in the room. And turn it on! A blown out bulb will not show itself if you just take a peek at the equipment. Try it out. And then practice.
Let's suppose you have done your homework, you know your audience, you know the room, you know the equipment, you are fully conversant with the topic at hand, you have practiced, and you are ready to go. The power could still go off, right? Or you could be shifted to another room at the last minute. Or the hotel could lose your slides. I have actually had all of these things happen. And I am here to tell you that I survived. And so will you.