Conquering Your Fear of Public Speaking

Public speaking is something that makes a lot of people shake in their shoes. I am outwardly a very shy human being by nature. Like most shy people, I had a huge fear of public speaking. I’m not going to pretend like I am the expert on this topic because I still need a lot of work. However, I did get rid of my anxiety of public speaking, which has helped with my overall skill. While practice is the only thing that can truly make you better at public speaking, there are a few tips that can drastically improve your nerves before speaking in front of people.

Practice Makes Perfect

As I said before, the more you speak, the easier it gets. I know this isn’t the tip you wanted but feeling nervous about giving a presentation isn’t something you can get rid of by watching a YouTube tutorial. Sign up for as many speaking opportunities as you can. Do a bunch of informal speaking engagements with people who don’t matter. Practice giving your presentation in front of your spouse, kids, or pets. The more you speak in front of others, the less nervous you get every single time. I promise. You’ll also start to understand what you’re good at and what you need to improve. And if you speak a bunch of times prior to that important conference or work meeting, you’ll be so much better when it actually matters.

I make my students give several “pressure-free” presentations throughout the semester. This means, I don’t judge them based on speaking ability, but rather on the material they present. They can read completely off of the PowerPoint, sit down, stand in the back of the classroom, whatever they need to do to just get comfortable with the concept of public speaking. Many of my students say this helps them drastically when the presentation that matters approaches.

Pen and PaperOverly Prepare Yourself

You’re already feeling anxious about speaking so don’t give yourself a reason to be anxious about running out of material or fumbling through your papers. Not only does this stress you out and make your face turn bright red, but it also makes the audience feel really uncomfortable. Make sure you know your stuff. Through and through, you should be an expert on your topic. If you know what you’re talking about, then no one can trip you up. You’ll feel so much less stressed if you feel confident in your knowledge.

This also comes in handy when you have a technology glitch. I once gave an entire PowerPoint presentation without realizing that the projector was frozen on my desktop background of cats. The whole time. It was the first day of class. If I didn’t know what I was supposed to be teaching, this could have been really bad. However, I was overly prepared to the point of not even realizing I didn’t have my PowerPoint bullets to guide me.

Now’s Not the Time to Test Your Comedy Routine

Speaking of making the audience uncomfortable, if you weren’t funny before, don’t try to be now. Trying to be funny in front of a group of strangers is the worst thing you can do. The worst thing. Because then, for the rest of your presentation, you’re going to be either a.) trying to redeem that joke with another one, or b.) wanting to run off the stage crying. You’ll come across a lot more professional if you are knowledgeable and boring, rather than awkwardly crying.

I recently had a student hype up this funny story she was going to tell at the end of her PowerPoint. When the end came and she told her funny story, not a single person laughed (except me, but I’m the teacher so it’s kinda like your mom telling you you’re pretty). It was a VERY awkward and tense moment. Her entire presentation was fantastic. She was knowledgeable and poised, but that funny story left everyone in the room shifting in their seats.

Cool it with the Gestures

Give your hands a job. I always had the hand gesture problem. I would make giant circles with my arms while talking that had absolutely no meaning to what I was saying. I’ve also had students who were so nervous they couldn’t read their note cards because their hands were shaking. Try holding a pencil with both hands (not a click-y pencil–we all know what would happen there *click click click click*). It did wonders for my circling hands. Try holding a cup of water or practice holding onto the sides of a podium for speaking engagements.

There are some things to avoid when trying to contain your hands. Don’t stick your hands in your pockets. A lot of my males students do this and it comes off as not caring or indifference. Don’t hold a plastic water bottle. You’ll sound like my dog as you make the crinkling sound with your nerves. Pull your hair back. I constantly tuck and re-tuck my hair when I’m nervous.

Breathe

Depending on your situation, take a breath and use it to your benefit. Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing a student say “um, I lost my place, give me a second,” while we all sit in the most pressurized silence waiting for you to figure it out.  It is so much more professional it you take a drink of water to relocate your spot or even just pause. By stating to the audience that you’re lost, it makes them feel helpless and now they’re all aware you don’t know what you’re doing. If you just pause, we might think you are holding back a sneeze, or that you’re pausing for dramatic effect, who knows!

During my maid of honor speech at my best friend’s wedding, I lost my place on my note card. Instead of panicking, I took a deep breath and found my place. Everyone thought I was just holding back tears (maybe tears from public speaking).

Men's ShoesWear Your Power Outfit

This doesn’t need so much explaining, but wear an outfit that makes you feel incredible. If you feel comfortable and confident in how you look, you’ll go in to your presentation feeling like a boss. I’ve found that comfort is key for me! When I wear an outfit that fits me great, I feel much more relaxed than if I wear a stuffy suit that I keep tugging.

Don’t Let the Embarrassing Moments Get You Down

Realize that you’re not alone and don’t let goof-ups haunt you. It’s very easy to recall that one moment in 8th grade when you were giving a speech on dolphins and dropped your cards. You are going to make mistakes, I guarantee it. One time I tried to say “have a nice weekend” or “have a nice Easter” but instead it came out, “have a nice Wee-ster”. I’ve also told my students to “noodle around on Blackboard”. Noodle around. Weird things come out of your mouth when you’re nervous. Don’t get mad if someone laughs and PLEASE don’t cry. Learn to laugh it off!

Let me know in the comments some tricks that help to calm your nerves before public speaking!

2 Comments

  1. Loretta Wells

    May 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Excellent tips!! You did a really good job on these. I can relate when I felt my face turn so red, I got so warm all over, and instantly got a pounding headache. All in front of my boss and coworkers!! Very awkward.

    Personally, I do better in a presentation when I am in back of the audience speaking with a power point presentation and then go to the front of the room or walk a round with comments. Also makes the others feel a part of the presentation and that they are not buried in the audience. This also helps with the red-face syndrome . . . for me at least!
    Thanks!

    1. Britt

      May 8, 2017 at 12:18 am

      That’s true, it does keep everyone more engaged!

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