A friend of mine once admitted that he fears public speaking more than he fears death. Even though I stared at him in disbelief, I realised that most of us have felt this dread in varying degrees as we are about to address a group of people waiting to listen to what we have to say.
The fear of public speaking is so common it even has a scientific name—glossophobia!
However, standing in front of an audience and delivering a pitch, an idea, or a presentation is becoming an essential part of our professional lives. Being a confident speaker can help us advance our careers, grow our businesses, and help us form lasting partnerships.
And sometimes the only thing that stands between us and our audience is either shyness or the fear of rejection, or both.
If you are painfully shy and find that the terror of speaking in public gets in the way of your success at work, here are some tips from career coach and educator Shamim Suryavanshi to help you face your audience confidently:
1. Acknowledge and manage your anxiety
We don’t have to overcome our fear to become good public speakers. Instead, we need to learn to manage it better.
Suryavanshi suggests that one way to do this is to try and discover why we are putting limits on ourselves. “In my case, I was once rejected from the school choir. This led me to shut up for life and never to sing, until at an international event I was asked to sing a Bollywood song. With no one else in the room knowing the song, I sang and managed an applause. Not that I became an overnight singing sensation, but after that I began to sing amongst friends just for the joy of singing and having a good time!
And this is how I managed to liberate myself from a self-limiting fear of rejection!
2. Know your audience but focus on your material
While it is always a good idea to know our audience beforehand (who they are, what they do, what are the topics that interest them), once we face them our focus should entirely be on the subject at hand and how to put it across clearly and succinctly to our listeners.
Suryavanshi points out that it is very important to invest time and effort in mastering your chosen topic and keep practising until you feel confident.
“There is no shortcut to success. I once had a colleague who was invited to compere an event. It was a prestigious assignment and something that she always wanted to do. A well-written script and rigorous practice made her the star of the evening. She would rehearse with me over Skype and telephone until she felt she was ready to face her listeners.”
3. Be kind to yourself
We can’t control what other people say about us, but we can most certainly control the things we tell ourselves.
“So, shut your inner critic. Visualise an applauding audience instead. And remember to be kind to yourself,” adds Suryavanshi.
She points out that humour is sometimes the best tool to put not only ourselves but also our audience at ease.
“We are all humans and bungle up sometimes. Be prepared to laugh at yourself. If at all you goof up on stage, be the first one to acknowledge it and then move on. A dose of humour is great in stressful situations”.
4. Try some calming techniques
While deep breathing and positive thoughts are great for soothing those onstage jitters, another effective way to deal with nervousness is to plant our feet firmly on the ground (literally and figuratively), smile broadly, and find a friendly face in the audience to connect with.
“Discover what works best for you and then do the same ritual every time you are facing an audience. It will calm you and divert your attention away from stage anxiety,” feels Suryavanshi.
5. Break the cycle of fear
The bottom line is that if doing something scares us, we will do everything in our power to avoid having to do it. And because we avoid doing something, we end up not getting any practice.
When we don’t get enough practice, we don’t get better at it. And if we don’t better at it, we will continue to remain terrified of it.
“This cycle of fear can go on and on. But it doesn’t have to. There are so many options available to us these days—we can practice with friends, record ourselves on video, attend public speaking classes, or even hire a professional coach.”
In the end what makes a good public speaker is a positive outlook and lots of patience, preparation and practice.
Good luck out there!
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