A pretty big fear for most people is speaking in public. It’s nerve-wracking, awkward, and the potential for embarrassment or mistakes runs high. While many try to avoid speaking publicly when at all possible, the truth is that it’s a necessary skill in life. At some point in your personal or professional life, you’ll need to be able to effectively communicate information and ideas to a large group of individuals. So, in anticipation of that eventual moment, here are a few tips that can help everyone feel less intimidated by public speaking:
Start Preparing Early
Remember, speaking publicly is a skill. Preparing your material and familiarizing yourself with the subject ahead of time is one of the best ways to feel comfortable and ready. This means start by outlining your research, read and make notes on all the information, and think about the best way to connect with your audience. If you’re working in a group, be clear who is responsible for what and be clear who will be presenting the material. The better you know the material you’ll be delivering, the more at ease you’ll feel and the better you’ll be at answering questions or dealing with small hiccups like losing your place or tripping over your words.
This may sound counterintuitive but memorizing your speech can make things a lot worse on the big day. If you try and memorize an entire speech, you run the risk of making a small mistake that can throw off your entire rhythm, leaving you scrabbling and panicked to get back on track. You also run the risk as coming off as “over-rehearsed”, which will interfere with your ability to connect and deliver information to your audience. It’s much better to have an outline of what you want to talk about and cover, but not to memorize a word-for-word script when speaking in public. This way small changes won’t through you off course.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Knowing the material and practicing your presentation are the two most important steps you can take in preparing for any presentation. Speak out loud, not just to yourself privately.
- Practicing the presentation as if you were in front of a real audience, helps you find the flow of words that work best, illustrate areas where you might stumble, and highlight what information you may not still know quite as well as you believed.
- If using PowerPoint or visual aids, take your time through each slide or section of the presentation. If you are in a group, practice asking questions that the audience may have for everyone.
- If it’s a solo speech or presentation, ask a friend to watch and give you feedback. Have them treat it like a real-life scenario by asking questions.
- Practicing your speech also has the added benefit of making you less reliant on notecards, which in turn makes it easier to speak naturally about the subject at hand. If you’d like to keep notecards nearby just in case do so (unless an instructor forbids them) but practice enough so that they’re only an “emergency” measure, rather than a necessary tool.
Don’t Overthink It
This one is hard, after all, it’s easy to think that everyone listening will catch any small mistake you make. Remember, being nervous while doing a speech or a presentation is one of the most common fears – everyone gets it. Keep calm and try not to overthink small hiccups or missteps. They happen. Most likely folks in the notice won’t even notice or remember them. The important thing is to keep going, stay on track with the outline, and try to impart the information you have to share with your audience the best way you can. People will remember the overall tone, focus, and message of your speech, not that one time you fumbled for a second and said “um” twice in a row.
It’s completely ok to feel nervous and anxious about it, but with early preparation, clear goals, and practice you can help minimize your nerves and deliver a great speech.