Of all the things that people fear, there are few they dread so much as having to speak in public. Whether you have to give a project summary to a small team of colleagues, or make an announcement at a community organization, there’s a good chance that you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
How can you conquer this fear? As with most fears, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your anxiety.
- Although you may prefer to avoid giving presentations, the more practice you get, the more comfortable you will become. Look for opportunities on and off the job. Consider taking a public speaking course or joining a group such as Toastmasters. Start with easier situations (e.g., giving a brief talk to a few people you know well), and gradually work your way up to the harder ones (giving a long speech to a large room full of strangers).
- Be prepared. Outline what you’re going to say, and practice your speech as many times as possible–with a mirror, video camera, family, or other practice audience. Anticipate challenging questions that your listeners might ask, and think about how you could respond.
- Pay attention to thoughts or images that flash through your mind when you’re preparing or thinking about giving a talk. If you have negative thoughts such as “I’ll probably look foolish” or “People won’t find it interesting,” challenge these thoughts and try to replace them with more positive ones (e.g., “How do I know what people will think? Maybe it will turn out okay after all”). Remember that most audiences want the speaker to succeed, and do not expect the speaker to be perfect.
- Practice relaxation exercises. Deep breathing can help lower your anxiety, and can even be practiced during the actual speech. Think of your nervousness as energy you can use to become a more lively, dynamic speaker.
- Picture yourself poised and confident, delivering an informative presentation. Flesh out the details of the experience–for example, the approving looks on the faces in the audience, and the sound of their applause. Imagining success is the first step to actually achieving it .