Tips to help you get over your fear of public speaking.
A couple of weeks ago, I published a post on LinkedIn about having to deal with my fear of public speaking to deliver the opening speech at this year’s Made In Manchester Awards. A year ago, the thought of standing on stage in front of 600 people would have been my worst nightmare and, after receiving quite a lot of messages from others, I realised I wasn’t the only one to be absolutely mortified about the idea of public speaking. With that in mind, I thought I’d write a blog detailing how over nine months I went from fearing public speaking to feeling relatively comfortable and hopefully the approach I took will help some other people out as well. Let me know your thoughts and if you’re an experienced speaker, it would be great if you could share your tips too.
I’ve been running an agency in Manchester for the last five years and as we’ve grown I’ve been offered the opportunity to speak at various events. However, I’ve always politely declined as standing on stage in front of a load of people is pretty close to the bottom of the list of things I want to do. I wouldn’t say I’m a shy person — in fact probably the opposite — and I’m pretty happy speaking to anyone until they’re told they have to listen to me and then I become a bit of wreck. I was fully aware that public speaking has massive benefits for businesses, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
In July 2016, I was named as Future Pro Manchester’s chairman for a year. Future Pro Manchester is a subsidiary of Pro Manchester, which offers support, advice and networking opportunities for young professionals within the city. As part of my role, I would have to do the opening speech at their award ceremony celebrating the city’s best young talent in February 2017.
To get out of it, I originally asked if I could send one of those ‘Sorry, I couldn’t be there tonight’ videos that Jon Bon Jovi sends when he can’t be bothered to turn up to the MTV Awards, but they were having none of it, so I had to devise a plan to try and get over it.
I’m quite fortunate that within three miles of my office in Manchester there are three major universities (The University of Salford, The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University) as well as a number of colleges a bit further out. I contacted all of them and the local Student Entrepreneurs Society and asked if they needed anyone from within the industry to come and speak to students.
Within a couple of weeks, I managed to arrange several sessions speaking to students, which was pretty much a win-win for everyone. The students and universities were happy because they got up-to-date insights in to my industry and it also gave me the chance to get used to speaking in front of people in a relatively stress-free, no pressure environment.
From there I agreed to take part in a couple of panel sessions for local conferences or networking bodies. Despite this being the first time I’d be speaking to peers or the wider business community, I found panels a great way to ease your way in because there’s always someone else to talk if you’re struggling to come up with an answer. As being on a panel involves sitting down with fellow participants, it’s also an excellent opportunity to start getting comfortable in front of a crowd.
By this point I was beginning to feel a lot more relaxed speaking on stage, so the next, final step was to deliver a keynote. I spoke at Legal Services Live about content marketing to 200 legal professionals and found that I actually quite enjoyed it.
All-in-all, by the time the awards came around, I had done about 25 public speaking gigs and was a lot better prepared for handling my nerves and anxiety around speaking in front of a large group of people.
Some other things that I have picked up along the way:
- When I first found out about the awards, I rang a friend who is an experienced public speaker and asked for his advice. His response was “the only way to learn is to do it” and although I thought he was having me on at the time, he was completely right. The more you do, the more comfortable you feel and if you have the chance to practice in front of student groups initially, that will put you in great stead moving forward.
- Take your time and remember to breathe. This sounds obvious. After all, if you don’t remember to breathe, you’ll die and that’s not good for anyone. I imagine the event organisers would be very furious indeed. I was meant to talk for half an hour for my first university session. I practised and had the timings just right, but on the day, when faced by an audience, I rushed through it at 200 miles an hour and ended up finishing in 15 minutes. There’s loads of YouTube tutorials and articles about controlling your pace and breathing; I found these really helpful.
- There’s a reason you’re there. You’re great, you’re work is great and you’re smashing it. People want to hear you speak because you know what you’re talking about. I always had major imposter syndrome when asked to do stuff, but you’ve been asked for a reason. Don’t forget that.
Anyway, that’s all from me. If anyone does have feedback or any other tips, please feel free to share. And if you’re looking for a speaker, give me a shout.