Fear of Public Speaking & How to Overcome It

empty stage and podiumAs a college student, you will be faced with the task of public speaking. Whether it’s a pivotal feature of your major, or you’re taking a class that encompasses a number of presentations, public speaking is an essential skill for students and professionals, alike. Since it’s necessary to perfect, most people fear the mere thought of having to speak in front of an audience, regardless of size. Furthermore, its severity ranges from person to person, where some people may feel slightly nervous, others choke up mid-sentence. Thankfully, the fear of public speaking is something you can overcome as long as you are persistent and prepared for each opportunity.

Knowing Your Topic

Most of us have trouble explaining something unless we know it like the back of our hand. One of the biggest pitfalls people run into when public speaking is not knowing their topic enough to avoid rambling or going off topic. Although it’s normal to get lost at some point during your presentation, you’ll be able to handle those moments with grace when you thoroughly understand what you’re presenting. Try to picture yourself in the audience and think about what you would want to know from your presentation. Having an idea as to what questions will be asked will prepare you for whatever is thrown your way.

Organize Your Thoughts

Rather than trying to give a speech on a whim, take the time to plan ahead and organize your thoughts. This means writing down your speech and perfecting it until you’re comfortable with the content. If your presentation requires visual aids or other tools to enhance the overall experience, make sure you’ve located those items and have practiced how you’re going to incorporate each into your presentation. Lastly, jot down your main points on a small notecard for an additional reference. Simply put, being organized is half the battle when it comes to mitigating nervousness.

Practice Makes Perfect

Synonymous with being organized, you must give yourself enough time to practice your speech to feel comfortable. Observe your verbal and nonverbal communication by practicing in front of a mirror several times. Once you’ve boosted your confidence using that method, try presenting your speech in front of family or close friends for additional feedback. For the finishing touch, use a video camera to record your performance so you can pinpoint areas that need improvement.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

One of the best ways to mitigate the stress associated with public speaking is taking deep, slow breaths! Prep yourself before you go on stage by taking a few breaths before and during your speech to help you stay calm throughout the presentation.

Pay Attention to the Topic

Rather than focusing on the people in the audience and what they’re thinking, pay attention to the topic at hand. Since the most powerful aspects of a speech are the introduction and conclusion, try memorizing those sections over everything else. For those of us who have a fear of public speaking, we typically assume that the audience is harshly judging us. However, that usually isn’t the case, making it more important to think about how you can educate your audience, as opposed to how you look or sound in front of them.

Look and Feel Your Best

There’s nothing more daunting than getting up for a presentation and not feeling well rested and hydrated. Prep your body by getting a good night’s sleep, eating a hearty breakfast, and staying hydrated throughout the day. Avoid caffeinated products to decrease the likelihood of feeling anxious and nervous. If possible, engage in some light exercise before your presentation. Activities like walking, stretching, or doing arm circles will boost your concentration and reduce tension. Along with taking care of your body, dressing for success is just as important. This will help you feel confident and more comfortable with all eyes being on you.

Examine Your Space

Becoming familiar with the space of your presentation will help you worry less about the extra details that come along with a presentation. Figure out what you’ll have to deal with on presentation day, such as the location of the podium, audience, equipment and time constraints, so there are no surprises when it’s time to talk.

Take a Moment of Silence

Believe it or not, taking a full pause during your presentation will allow you to reorganize your thoughts, have a moment to take some deep breaths and gives you a chance to reflect on what you’ve already shared. This is a great way to prevent you from talking too fast and, as a result, rushing through the presentation. If you’ve ever been worried about not talking long enough during a presentation for school, prevent the feeling of hurriedness by taking your time.

Reward Yourself

Even if your presentation wasn’t perfect in the sense that you felt nervous or embarrassed at times, reward yourself for getting through it and doing your best. Instead of being critical of your performance, take it as an opportunity to learn how you can improve the next time around. Since public speaking isn’t a skill that most of us acquire overnight, the best way to improve is to practice!

Visualize Success and Put Things into Perspective

Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to visualize our success! Since everything is about the way you perceive things, telling yourself that you will succeed sets you up for achievement! Even if it doesn’t turn out exactly as planned, you have to ask yourself questions like, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Being realistic about the outcome can help you realize that no matter what happens, you will be able to bounce back from this.

Seek Support

If you continue to struggle with public speaking after numerous attempts to improve your skills, there are groups available for people who seek additional support to overcome their fears. A great resource is Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that assists people with developing their public speaking and leadership skills.

References

Hall-Flavin, D. (2011, March 24). How can I overcome my fear of public speaking?. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/phobias/expert-answers/fear-of-public-speaking/faq-20058416

Overcoming speech anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Oralcomm/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20OvercomingSpeechAnxiety.pdf

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