How to go from being terrified of public speaking to loving it

Public speaking can be a nerve-racking affair. The fear of public speaking is usually about the fear of being embarrassed or humiliated. Aristotle once said “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” As a speaker, I can tell you that butterflies always came to me prior to stepping on stage. That nervousness is okay; it is natural. It is the nervousness that will help you find the areas that are weaker, the ones that need more of your attention.

Professionals do not eliminate stage fright, they learn how to control it. Nerves are natural and an important part of the process. They keep you present and focused. In fact, fear and excitement have the same effect on our bodies (fast heart rate, sweaty palms, funny feeling in our stomach). It is only our brain that registers it as fear or excitement. So, instead of thinking you are nervous, reframe it in your mind as to why you are excited to be giving this talk. Use the nervousness to propel you further.

Here at Avaintec, we believe that competence can be taught and learnt. However, people learn in different ways. Some of us are visual learners, while others respond to spoken and written word, logic, or even physical activities. I have run many workshops where I try to create an inclusive learning environment.

In this blog post I will try to give you my public speaking tips. When I teach others how to be better communicators, I remind them that it is related to the 3C’s: content, confidence and connection. Yet, when I see most people lose their confidence onstage, or in front of others, it is the lack of preparation causing it. If you are prepared and passionate about your subject matter, you will do great.

I encourage every presenter to always begin with a (short) personal story because it instantly connects you to your audience. And in this day and age, connection is key when social media and technology run rampant.

I have come to realise that fear generally increases when we focus on ourselves. Your mind is busy with: “How will I be perceived?” “Will people like my speech” “Will they think it’s rubbish…?”. In these instances, the best advice I ever received about public speaking was to concentrate on explaining your topic and look at your audience to see if they are following what you are saying. Seems like it might be a little unnerving, but it connects you to your audience and you come across as genuine because you are focused on them.

Know your material backwards, forwards and upside down. This will allow you to improvise a little or help you out if you get stuck or forget what you are going to say. Instead of memorising it verbatim though, memorise the key points. Practice in front of the mirror often. Record yourself and watch to see if you fidget, check your mimics and gestures. Then find a trusted friend and practice in front of them. Ask for honest feedback. Track your time.

Remember to breathe; if you don’t, you will go too fast (this still happens to me every so often). If you find yourself using a verbal pause like “um”, “so”, etc. try to replace it with a breath.

The only way you get better at public speaking is to do it!

Philosophically speaking, confidence is knowing there are just two outcomes: success or survival (not success or failure; failure is when you do nothing). Success is meeting or exceeding some goal. And “survival” is still a win because something good came from the experience. You reached a partial goal, you grew and learnt something, you taught someone else something, etc. Essentially, realise there is no down-side, there are only positive results from what you go for.

To recap:

Have a clear opening, body and closing (body should include 3–4 key points explained logically).
Three core components to focus while you practice are: body language including hand gestures, vocal variety and solid content.
Practice out loud, be organised with your main points, connect with the audience on an emotional level, and close big!

I always try to remember that for the most part, everyone attending the event at which you are speaking want you to do well. They will give you way more leeway than the audience in your head does. And lastly remember, you were chosen to speak because of who you are and what you have to say.

P.S. My last bonus tip is to check out Toni Gargan’s Podcast on presenting, pitching and public speaking. She is absolutely awesome in revealing how to make a presentation with impact.