According to recent research, almost 80% of us suffer from speech anxiety, which makes the fear of public speaking one of the most common phobias that exists.
Whether you’re normally pretty confident or simply the thought of getting up in front of a room full of people immediately inspires the need to breathe into a paper bag, I’m sure we’re all familiar with that sweaty-palmed, shaky-kneed feeling that crops up when we’re about to make a big speech or presentation.
Let’s face it, public speaking can be a little intimidating. Even the most calm, cool, and collected can get a little panicky. Luckily, there are a few tips you can put into play to calm those butterflies and address the room with poise and confidence. And no, they don’t involve picturing the entire audience in their underwear.
1. Plan Ahead
Talking in front of others can be anxiety inducing to begin with. But, doing so when you feel completely disorganized and unprepared? Well, that takes your nerves to a whole new level.
Planning ahead is key to making yourself seem calm and qualified in front of your audience. Trust me, they can all tell if you’re up there just winging it—unless you’re ridiculously good at the whole improvisation thing.
Planning ahead is key to making yourself seem calm and qualified in front of your audience.
So, whether it’s a speech or a presentation, make sure that you take the time to adequately prepare beforehand. Organize notes and talking points; lay out the general structure of what you want to say; think of possible audience questions and practice thoughtful responses. The equation is simple: The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel.
Practice makes perfect. No, that’s not just a sentiment your mom would obnoxiously utter to you during your middle school flute lessons or gymnastics classes—it actually holds some water. Practicing your public speaking skills is a surefire way to look pulled together in front of a crowd.
The idea of practice might conjure up images of you standing in front of your bathroom mirror using your hairbrush as a microphone. But it really doesn’t need to be anything complicated. Those talking points you set out while you were getting prepared? Use them to rehearse your whole speech or presentation all the way through—more than once.
In fact, run through your talk as many times as you need to in order to feel somewhat loose and comfortable with it. There’s nothing worse than a speaker who mumbles through her whole presentation with her eyes glued to note cards. And plenty of practice will help you avoid those common public speaking blunders.
3. Don’t Panic About Questions
You’ve rehearsed your speech until you’re almost blue in the face and you fly through it with relative ease when the day actually arrives. You feel an immediate sense of relief, but then you see a hand shoot up in the crowd. Someone has a question for you. Your stomach immediately drops into your shoes—you weren’t prepared for this.
Listen, I know that having audience members prod you for more information is the last thing you want, especially after you managed to survive your nerve-wracking speech. But first it’s important to remember that questions are truly a great sign. It means that your audience was actually listening and actively engaged in everything you had to say.
Once you’ve accepted that, move on to answering the question. Focus solely on the individual who asked it and think of it as having a one-on-one conversation with that person. Forget that you’re responding to the inquiry in front of a crowd of other people and zone in on providing a thoughtful response to just that person. It’ll help to remove some anxiety from the situation—and ultimately improve the quality of your answer.
4. Establish a Routine
That lucky pair of socks you always wear for a big event; the peanut butter sandwich you feel like you need to eat before a presentation; that special song you have to listen to when you feel unbearably nervous.
It’s easy to brush these quirks and routines off as simply foolish superstitions. But, routines are actually a really great way to deal with your nerves. They make you feel as if you have some control in a situation that’s already making your stomach do flips.
So why not establish one that can help calm you down before a public speaking engagement? Whether it’s a breathing exercise or a walk alone around the building, think of something that will help you deal with that all-too-familiar jittery and queasy feeling. If nothing else, it gives you some time to try to pull yourself together before you take the floor.
5. Speak Slowly (Really Slowly)
If you’ve ever heard your own frantic heartbeat pounding in your ears, you already know that your pulse quickens when you’re nervous. But, unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that kicks into overdrive. Most of us have the tendency to talk a mile per minute when we’re uneasy as well.
When you’ve spent so much time preparing, you want to ensure that your audience will actually be able to understand everything you’re saying. And, that’s going to be difficult if your nerves cause you to race through your entire presentation. You don’t want it to seem like someone’s pressing “fast forward” through your entire speech.
So, be conscious of the speed of your voice and make an effort to speak way slower than you feel like you should. Word to the wise: If speaking that slow feels weird and unnatural, you’re probably doing it right.
6. Be Mindful of Nonverbal Cues
Of course, the words you’re saying are undoubtedly well-researched, informative, and important. So you’d hate to have those impressive insights overshadowed by incessant fidgeting, lip biting, and hair twirling. Sometimes what you’re not saying indicates more than the words that are actually coming out of your mouth.
Sometimes what you’re not saying indicates more than the words that are actually coming out of your mouth.
Similar to how you need to pay careful attention to the speed of your words, you also need to be mindful of other nonverbal cues. Make eye contact with specific audience members, rather than scanning over the top of heads. It makes you appear more self-assured and engaged.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and make large gestures away from your body—rather than towards yourself. Don’t begin talking as you walk to your position. Instead, walk to exactly where you want to be, plant your feet, take a deep breath, and then get started. It’s an important moment to collect yourself and it also doesn’t make you appear as if you’re rushing to get through your presentation.
Finally, be conscious of not raising the pitch of your voice at the end of your sentences. It’s a habit that most women have—particularly when they’re nervous. And, you want to make it clear that you’re making statements—not asking questions.
I get it—public speaking is definitely enough to rattle your nerves. I practically grew up on a stage and even I get a little cotton-mouthed at the thought of talking in front of a crowd. But you don’t want your anxiety to totally get in the way of giving a killer presentation.
Put these tips to work, and you’re sure to quell those butterflies and knock your speech out of the park!