Speaking in public is one of people’s biggest fears.
A speeding heart, increased sweating, a shaky voice… They’re all symptoms people who are afraid experience when they’re about to speak in front of an audience.
While writing this post, I discovered that fear of public speaking has a name: Glossophobia. The term itself is scary!
These symptoms are actually shared by most of us. And guess what… It’s absolutely normal, a natural survival response from our body! You would probably have a hard time dealing with risky or highly-intense situations if you didn’t feel stressed.
Unfortunately, sometimes our stress – which is supposed to be our best friend – may turn into our worst enemy as it can paralyze us or hinder our performance.
But it is necessary to overcome fear of public speaking because you’ll most likely have to give a talk or presentation at a certain stage of your life, be it studies, professional or even personal life.
Hence, the purpose of this post is to give you exhaustive, useful and concrete advice to help you overcome fear of public speaking while excelling at it.
In my personal experience, I had so much fear of public speaking that I wasn’t unable to say more than one word during presentations in my school. I would start crying and leave the room.
Thankfully, I found this technique and improved significantly my ability to deal with stress.
Beyond my personal experience, in order to write this post, I immersed myself in this book. I recommend you read it if you want to deepen your knowledge in public speaking!
Without further ado, let’s start from the beginning.
Why do we have fear of public speaking?
Fear of public speaking is caused by 3 main factors:
Humans need recognition, it’s part of our social nature. We like to shine in the eyes of others and be accepted by our peers.
As a result, when we’re gonna speak in public, we have this intimate fear of being mocked, criticized, judged or humiliated.
It’s deeply rooted in our psyche. Belonging to a group pleases us, and the idea of feeling rejection and criticism is demoralizing. So we prefer to avoid it.
The fear of being judged creates the fear of being vulnerable. Speaking in public means being completely out of our comfort zone.
During an intervention, the entire audience has their attention on what we’re saying. There’s no one who can help us if we screw up.
This vulnerability implies a form of risk. And such risk causes fear, stress and anxiety.
Not living up to the expectations
In a way, fear of public speaking originates from lack of self-confidence. This makes us doubt our ability to succeed and live up to the expectations.
According to studies by Dr. Joe Rubino, 85% of the world’s population is affected by low self-esteem. This is huge! And it is an important factor in our fear of public speaking.
For me, low self-esteem was the main cause of my fear of public speaking. On a scale from 1 to 100 in terms of self-confidence, I was at -300!!!
At school, I had pretty good written results, and answering teachers’ questions when I was sitting in my chair was fine. But then in high school, the oral exams started.
I was just in front of a teacher, there was not even an audience! But when faced with the challenge of the exam, I was simply unable to align two words, paralyzed by stress.
This stress was linked to my lack of self-confidence. I was convinced in advance that I was not going to succeed.
Now that you have a better understanding of why we have fear of public speaking, let me walk you through what occurs in our mind during the process and how you can mitigate it.
What exactly are we afraid of? (And how to deal with it)
We are afraid of:
- Forgetting what we’re gonna say. A black hole that sends us back to the fear of ridiculousness and judgment
- Not knowing how to answer questions from the audience
- People making fun of us
- Not performing well impacting our career for not living up to the expectations
To ease your fears, I invite you to list each of them the way we just did and jot down the actions you could take to prevent them if they were to occur.
Let’s do the exercise:
I am afraid I’ll forget what I’m gonna say
Chris Witt, speech coach, gives some techniques that’ll help you find your words back:
I am afraid I won’t be able to answer questions from the audience
You have the right not to know everything, you aren’t a robot (fortunately!!).
If this happens, you can say something like the following:
Well, thanks to you I will learn something new because I don’t have the answer to your question. I will get it after this conference. Give me your email address and I’ll come back to you.
The key is that you accept you don’t know the answer and do your best to find it whenever you can.
I am afraid people will make fun of me
In general, people are more caring than we picture it in our worst nightmares. We see them pointing fingers at us, laughing at us. Reality is much more different, though.
Still, let’s face the worst and imagine the improbability that they would act this way!
It is their mediocrity that we should laugh at!
Are you gonna be destabilized by morons? They’re not worth it, not for a second.
So if people make fun of you, laugh with them. Ask them to share the joke and make it amusing for the whole audience.
Laughing calms all evils. You’ll be greater than they will ever be.
I am afraid I won’t perform and it’ll impact my career for not living up to the expectations
If you are standing there sharing your ideas it’s because you are worth being listened to. If something goes wrong, rest assured that nothing is irreparable and one slip will certainly not doom your career.
Think about everything you have achieved, your success throughout your life. When you take a moment to think about it, you realize how impressive the progress you’ve made is.
The exact same circumstances that led you to be standing there in the first place are the reason why your career will not be impacted should you slip when speaking in public.
Everyone makes mistakes, that’s what makes us human. Plus, having the courage of standing there sharing your thoughts is already a sign of a worthwhile career.
Whatever happens, be assured that having the opportunity to speak in public will do nothing but help you in your career, not the other way around.
- List your fears
- Identify their worst possible impact
- Think about you can do to mitigate their impact if they happen
By having a realistic view of your fears, you feel empowered to act upon their unlikely occurrence. In short, facing your fears makes them less frightening.
So, now that you have understood why you have fear of public speaking, it’s time to deep dive into how you can deal with.
How to defeat fear of public speaking?
Unless you are a Zen master, even the most experienced speakers feel stressed before speaking. Some lawyers admit vomiting before a plea, even though it is inherent to their profession.
So don’t try to inhibit your stress, embrace it. Being fearless is not about a lack of fear, but about transforming it into positive energy.
Nerves are not a curse. They can be turned to great effect.Chris Anderson
If you are overwhelmed by stress, reveal it. Accept this vulnerability that you may feel. Doing so isn’t a sign of weakness but of strength and truth. Your interlocutors will value it and the majority will empathize with you.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.Brené Brown
Your stress is not a burden, it can actually be your ally.
If you have a moment of overwhelming stress in the middle of your speech, express your feelings to your interlocutors. You could say something like this:
As you can see I am nervous, I feel like I’m at a final in the Olympics, but without having the muscles!
- First, by saying it, you will immediately feel relieved
- Second, your interlocutors will empathize for being honest, which will create a connection with your audience
And this leads me to the next tip.
Create a connection: Make the public your partner
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.Carl W. Buechner
You can’t force people to listen to you and fully assimilate your ideas.
Knowledge can’t be pushed into a brain. It has to be pulled in.Chris Anderson
They will open the doors of their minds to you if you give them the confidence to do so, yet humans are naturally suspicious.
They set up tools to protect themselves from malicious knowledge that may shape their perception of the world.
Therefore, gaining their trust is the way to gain their interest. And to gain their trust you must create a connection.
What I ask you to apply for your interviews is not an exception here and it can be summarized in one word: CONNECTION.
And there are several ways you can achieve this.
Make eye contact
Look your interlocutor in the eye, one person at a time, and you will connect with them more easily.
Try to spot 2 or 3 people with friendly faces, and look at them. Their smile and kindness will not only allow you to connect but will also give you more confidence.
If you want to create a bond, a James bond, please SMILE!
People relate more easily to someone that smiles than to someone whose teeth are as mysterious as the beginning of the universe.
Ron Gutman in his speech The Hidden Power of Smiling emphasizes the importance of smiling.
He explained that when you smile, you don’t only appear to be more likable and courteous, but you actually appear to be more competent. So smile will you and your work legitimate. Not bad, right?
Furthermore, a study led by Uppsala University showed that it’s hard to frown when looking at someone who smiles. Why? Because smiling is genuinely contagious.
Thus if you want your audience’s attention, you know what you have to do!
Plus, make them laugh if you can 😀
Confidence comes from discipline and training.Robert Kiyosaki
There is no secret. Preparation is one of the keys to your success.
People who are excellent at speaking, are not so innately. Hence, they study and rehearse until they have a perfect command of their subject and presentation.
Do you think Michael Phelps became 18-time Olympic champion only thanks to his physiological advantages? No, he’s been training for countless hours.
Nothing happens by chance.
It is only in the dictionary that the word ‘Success’ comes before the word ‘Work’Pierre Fornerod
So work hard, prepare your speech and rehearse until you become a master at it.
The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about.Michael H. Mescon
Stand up straight
An easy way to feel more powerful when you give a talk is to stand tall and put equal weight on your both feetChris Anderson
Standing straight allows you to be focused on the present, be anchored on the ground and feel stronger & confident.
According to the social psychologist Amy Cuddy, your body language will make a great difference both in your own performance and in the people perceive your confidence level. Thus, stand up straight and don’t cross your arms!
Drink water and eat
Really important. Drink water (and not vodka) to hydrate your body.
Also, eat something healthy to get all the essential nutrients.
In my case, I always had little cookies with me before I had to speak in public in school. Eating them would calm me down.
Breathe through the abdomen
You know how I feel about it, I think breathing is the key!
Good breathing is a factor of serenity. Hence, an important factor of a successful intervention without signs of fear of public speaking.
Breathing seems obvious. However, when you are stressed or nervous, you either don’t breathe or breathe very badly, through the chest.
Now, I invite you to breathe through your stomach, a method used by top athletes.
You should watch your abdomen swell as you inhale and deflate as you exhale. Do it slowly.
Put your hand on your stomach, take a deep breath into your stomach, and let it out slowly. Repeat it 3 times.
Abdominal breathing will allow you, among other things, to regulate your heart rate and promote the oxygenation of cells and blood, thus calming your anxiety.
But for this abdominal breathing to become a reflex, you must practice it regularly. Try to do abdominal breathing exercises every day, so that this breathing method becomes a habit.
Repeat your past achievements to yourself
Think of all your personal and professional achievements that foster your self-confidence. Do this just before you speak. It will boost your confidence.
You can write this on your speaker notes:
- I have the qualities to rock it
- I have got this
- I am legitimate
Find words and phrases that resonate with you.
When I was hesitant about my ability to speak at work meetings, I would tell myself that if I had been recruited it was because they considered me competent.
Therefore, I would repeat to myself that I was as capable and legitimate as my colleagues to speak.
Try this out, it’ll boost your confidence and reduce your fear of public speaking.
Visualize your success
Visualization is a technique that uses the resources of the mind, imagination, and intuition to improve performance and well-being.
As part of their mental preparation, top athletes use visualization to improve their performance and increase their self-confidence.
This technique is not exclusive to them. We can also use it to achieve our objectives!
The idea is to pre-dispose your mind for good performance and success. Visualization will allow you to better prepare for unexpected situations, manage stress and overcome your fear of public speaking.
Start each of your sentences with “I” and try to be as precise as possible in your visualization.
Imagine the place, the people, the audience and also the other speakers. Visualize your outfit, your hairstyle, what you feel, the wetness of your hand, your voice on the microphone.
You feel confident and your concentration is at its highest. You listen for deep focus just a few minutes before your presentation.
There’s good energy flowing through you. Your heart beats fast but it beats well and you see your abdomen swell.
You have a smile on your face because you are sure that your presentation will be a success and crowned with a big round of applause.
Your mental attitude is positive and you feel in control of the situation. Visualize yourself on the stage, imagine your interactions with people, your smile, and your eye-to-eye contact with the public. You are unstoppable.
Visualize the detail of your presentation, the speech as fluid as water running in the river. You find your words easily and even make some jokes. Your remarks are incisive, you can see your ideas resonating within the audience.
Feel the pride and joy when you finish with an applause and positive comments from the entire room.
Finally, have a look at this TED talk on the power of visualization!
Dress well and comfortably
I understand that this may seem superficial to you, but feeling good in your clothes is the first step to gain confidence and be more comfortable.
Every time I would have a presentation at work, whether it was in front of interns or my boss, I’d make sure I had an outfit that made me feel good and boosted my confidence.
Remember that building confidence is one of the keys to overcoming fear of public speaking, and dressing well will steer you towards the right direction.
Do your focus ritual before going on stage
For some, this means talking to other people. For others, listening to music privately.
In my case, for example, I would isolate myself and listen to 50 Cent or Doctor Dre to in order to start my presentation as focused as I possibly could.
Increasing focus decreases the chances of slipping up or forgetting your speech.
So, now that you know how to deal with fear of public speaking, it’s time you learn how to deliver a jaw-dropping speech.
How to deliver a great speech
As the Head of TED Chris Anderson explains in his book, there is not one way to give a great talk, but there is only your way!
The art of delivering a great speech is not innate. It is acquired through techniques that can be learned. Let’s look further into those in order to make your speech… speechless!
Have a throughline
There must be a common theme between each of your ideas. All the elements need to connect: You need a throughline.
It is also important to have an original throughline that will arouse the curiosity of your interlocutors.
As Chris Anderson puts it in his book, to define your throughline you need to know your audience so that you can adapt your speech to your target.
- Who are they?
- What are their expectations?
- What is their profession?
- How old are they?
Use transition words or phrases
For your audience to follow your reasoning and overall speech structure, use transition words or phrases like the following:
- On the other hand,
- With this in mind,
- In summary
- To conclude
They are the flashlight that shows the way!
Add variety to your tone
Inject variety into the way you speak. If your presentation is completely linear and monotonous, you may sedate the person you are speaking to!
Also, don’t be afraid to leave some silence between sentences when necessary.
“Well-timed silence has more eloquence than speech.”
Martin Fraquhar Tupper
Practice with an inexpert person
Elizabeth Gilbert suggests you choose someone that you like and who is not in your field of expertise.
The idea is to prepare your talk thinking that it’ll be delivered to that one person only.
This will make it more authentic.
In addition to that, have that person give you honest feedback.
We all suffer from cognitive bias. When we master a subject, we forget to know how it is not to know it.
Therefore, if you want your ideas to resonate within a lot of people, test your speech with your person of choice in order to make sure you didn’t miss a key element.
Don’t lose yourself and the audience in too many details
When we give a speech, there’s the risk of getting lost in too many irrelevant details and, by extension, losing our audience.
Here’s an example of how someone could get lost in irrelevant details:
This morning, the day was really warm, I didn’t feel like just yesterday I was under my sheets, wearing a jumper and slippers that I had bought on Amazon on last year’s Black Friday. As soon as I stepped on the street, I saw that the Sun would collide with Earth, that everyone would be wiped out in a matter of seconds. That’s when I realized that I had let the oven on and that I had to go back, turn it off and take a shower with the coconut shampoo I bought yesterday.
The shorter your sentences, the more effective they will be. Less is more.
- Spark curiosity
- Brought the concept one by one
- Use metaphors for people to understand concretely your point through something they know
- Give examples
We have the possibility of using many and diverse visuals to accompany our speech: Slides, videos, graphs, etc.
At school, we’re taught to make slides for our presentations. But is it always necessary?
Ask yourself this question. Making slides also implies taking the risk of diverting attention from your words. It is better to have no visuals than poor visuals!
If you decide that having visuals is indeed relevant for your presentation, there are some guidelines you can follow.
Avoid text as much as you can
Use your slides only to show something that is difficult to describe with words. You know what they say: A picture is worth more than a thousand words.
For example, a graph with key data will be more impactful and clearer than a long block of text.
We have all seen and we have all made slides with a big title and bullet points with long sentences, just like the one below:
It doesn’t make any sense to say orally what the audience can read on the slide!
Words on a screen are fighting your presentation, not enhancing itChris Anderson
Moreover, a slide with a question and its respective answer ruins all the suspense. The idea is that your words bring an explanation to the slide and add value.
The slide should arouse the curiosity of your audience and not steal the spotlight.
Instead of your slide saying: The Way Factory is a blog to help people finding their way through career and personal advice.
Have it say: What is The Way Factory?
Every word you say that your interlocutor has already read in a slide is like a smartphone without the internet: Useless!
Use one single font
It must be readable like Helvetica or Arial. Use 24 points at least to make your text is readable.
Use simple and contrasting colors
Use the same colors all along your slides and keep them sober, like white, black, gray or blue. We are not at the Rio Carnival (yet!), so avoid a red slide with green and orange!
Keep videos short
If you have videos, it shouldn’t last more than 30 seconds at the risk of losing the attention of your audience
Don’t leave your slide hanging out
When you’re done talking about the slide, remove it. It brings no value to leave a slide on the screen when it’s no longer related to what you’re saying.
To memorize or to not memorize?
The question of whether or not to memorize your presentation is often the subject of lively debates!
For some people, memorizing gives the confidence to deliver an incredible speech. For others, memorized speeches will backfire because the speaker will sound like he/she is reciting some boring text.
I have an opinion about it, but I’ll give it to you at the end of the article 😉
If you have the time to prepare, memorizing is the assurance of making good use of time when it’s necessary to respect a given duration limit.
Additionally, you will not waste time searching for the right words and will be able to deliver your message to the best of your abilities.
Moreover, learning by heart also means reassuring yourself and reducing anxiety.
However, the risk is to lack spontaneity and to give the impression that you are reciting poetry.
The technique to avoid this pitfall is precisely to know your text so well that you no longer need to focus on the words, but on the intonation and the passion you transmit.
You’re supposed to get to the point in which you’re no longer focused on what you’re saying because it’s embedded in your subconscious. Instead, your conscious effort is allocated to the interaction with the audience.
The idea is to know your script so well that it seems natural.
The test that certifies you have memorized your speech is that you should be able to do something totally different while reciting it.
It ensures a fresh, lively, spontaneous talk. But it also implies the risk of getting stuck at a certain part of your talk. And that can negatively impact the quality of your presentation.
Thus, I advise you to write at least the framework of your speech with the essential aspects of it.
Also, learn what will be your transitional sentences. This way, you have a general idea of where and how you’re gonna manage the talk.
If you feel comfortable having an unscripted talk, then go for it!
I have tried both methods and I am more comfortable with memorizing. It is a way for me to channel my stress and feel safer.
After learning the speech by heart, I work on trying to make it alive enough so that it doesn’t sound like it’s being recited by a robot.
When I don’t memorize my speech, I tend to stick my eyes to the slides anyway, which is an ERROR!!
The key to success is to use the method you are most comfortable with.
Whether you memorize your speech or not, I advise you rehearse as much as you can. A musician rehearses. So does a comedian. Do the same.
Can you seriously believe that Steve Jobs, before his famous launch events, wasn’t rehearsing? The fluency on stage is not improvised, it is worked on.
Whether you memorize or not, the goal is to have a structured presentation with a fresh and lively talk.
Also, when rehearsing, keep in mind the time limits. Here are 2 tips to that end:
- Deliver your speech and time yourself
- Prepare a speech that is a little shorter than the time allotted. If you have a presentation to make in 10 minutes, stop the timer at 9 minutes. Leave yourself a little room to breathe, take a mini break and drink water if necessary.
For one of my presentations at school, I didn’t take the clock seriously enough.
When I was timing myself, I was always exceeding by 4 to 5 minutes on a 30-minute speech.
I thought it was insignificant and that I’d be able to shorten it on the day of the presentation.
Well… Absolutely not. I was more stressed and less fluid than when I trained in my room and ended up taking longer than expected.
Do not adapt your presentation on the same day of your speech! After 30 minutes, the professor cut me off and said it was over… I hadn’t even done half of my presentation.
I could only blame myself, I had never prepared within the allowed time limits.
Thus please don’t do my stupid mistake, and rehearse a lot!
Introduction and conclusion
The introduction must succeed in captivating your audience and the conclusion must allow the same audience to keep an excellent memory of your presentation.
How do you do a captivating introduction?
You must quickly catch the attention of your audience. Otherwise, it is their phone or their emails that will have the privilege of their full attention.
So for your interlocutor not to swipe you left, you gotta intrigue them. Here’s how.
Best explained with an example. International chef Jamie Oliver started off in a TED talk by saying: Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead through the food that they eat.
I am sure he catches your attention, right?
Arousing curiosity with a powerful question
For example: How a 19-year old girl with less than $200 managed to visit 65 countries to find her way?
Starting with an object, a demonstration, a photo or an intriguing video
Instead of saying: Today I plan to do this, and then do that…
Start by saying: Let me show you something that will spark a light in you…
Starting your presentation with a short thriller of what’s coming without revealing your cornerstone idea is one of the best ways to catch your audience’s attention.
Don’t start with something like this: Today, I’m gonna explain that the key to success is to be true to yourself.
If you start like that, your audience may drop out, believing that they already know the answer.
So, instead, you could say something like this: During this presentation, I will show you what I think is the key to find your way and how each of us can achieve it, regardless of your history, education or background.
The conclusion is essential. Your last words will be the ones that resonate the most. Don’t forget that a bad dessert can ruin a great meal!
Here’s how you can conclude like a cherry on the cake.
Inviting people to act
If you have presented ideas, proposals or innovations to your audience, why not encouraging them to act upon those?
For instance, you could wrap up with something like this: The aim of The Way Factory is to give advice to all people who question who they are and what they want. But reading our blog isn’t enough, you also need to walk in order to find your way. So, why not starting the first step today?
Making a commitment on your own
Take Diana Nyad’s TED talk back in 2013. She tried to swim from Cuba to Florida 3 times, but at the moment of the speech didn’t manage to.
Here’s how she wrapped her talk up: But that ocean’s still there. This hope is still alive. And I don’t want to be the crazy woman who does it for years and years and years, and tries and fails and tries and fails and tries and fails, but I can swim from Cuba to Florida, and I will swim from Cuba to Florida.
These strong and memorable words resonated within people just the way they’re supposed to!
Sharing a hopeful vision
Being hopeful will cause your talk to leave a feeling a positivity within your audience.
Here’s an example:
The Way Factory owes its existence to all its Way Searchers looking for answers and lost in the face of the immensity of life.
How beautiful would our world be surrounded by happy and accomplished young people in their daily lives? Their well-being would reflect on our society.
Let us remember that today’s youth is tomorrow’s future and my intimate wish is that one day The Way Factory will disappear because fears and uncertainties will have disappeared.
Finishing on a famous quote
Ending on a quote is a metaphorical way of relating other people’s words with the subject at hand.
The link between your talk and what somebody else said will stick to people’s minds. Here’s an example:
People are scared to be vulnerable by questioning themselves and their aim in life, but as Brené Brown said ‘What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful’. So let’s all be beautiful!
Finishing on a surprising question
Doing this is thought-provoking, and that’s exactly what we want after our talk: People thinking about the ideas we intended to transmit. Here’s an example:
I think people are not asking themselves the right question. It’s not about ‘why do so many students go down the wrong path?’ Instead, it’s about ‘why don’t we show them all the ways?’
To write this post, I went back a few years ago and asked myself this question: What advice would I have liked to receive when I was losing my mind over fear of public speaking?
That’s exactly what I aimed to achieve here. I hope you’ve found this as useful as I would’ve in the past.
Trust yourself, you are perfectly capable of overcoming your fears. If I have done it, you are 1 billion times more capable of doing it right.
I am not telling you that I am an oral master and that I do not have a heart that beats at 10,000 per minute before a presentation.
But thanks to these techniques, I have been able to deal with fear of public speaking and deliver decent presentations on key moments.
Be proud of yourself and embrace who you are. Accept to be stressed, afraid and vulnerable.
What do Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Warren Buffett have in common? They all have experienced fear of public speaking, they all felt vulnerable!
The important thing is not to become the next Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King, but to be as authentic as possible. The more sincere you are, the more impactful your talk will be.
Inspiration can’t be performed. It is an audience’s response to authenticity, courage, selfless work and genuine wisdom. Bring those qualities to your talk and you may be amazed by what happensChris Anderson