Public speaking can be highly challenging, yet it is also a very rewarding opportunity at the same time. The technical term for this fear of public speaking is “glossophobia.” Your ability to perform in front of a group of people is an essential skill for you to develop and hopefully perfect over time. Public speaking is a fundamental aspect of any student’s life, but it is also important for virtually any job down the road. In the workplace, will you be able to convince your boss that you need or deserve a raise? Or convince a group of people in a workplace that you need to do things differently, or get them on board for something you are working on or proposing?
There will always be necessary occasions in your life when your skills as a public speaker are required, and you will also find that there is also room to improve. The following section provides a detailed list of suggestions to follow before, during, and after a public presentation.
1. Identify your audience.
Every audience that you speak to is going to be different. It is essential that you know your audience and tailor your presentation accordingly. Ask yourself these questions: is your audience full of experts on the subject matter you are discussing? Do they have a basic knowledge? Do they know anything about what you are presenting on?
Answer these questions to help you prepare your talk. Keep in mind that your audience will often be filled with people from a range of background and levels of expertise, and try and plan your talk so that it caters to all levels. Knowing your audience can help you get rid of any fear you might have of the talk itself.
2. Visualize the talk.
Visualize the talk you are giving in your head. This helps you get comfortable with the presentation and also helps you with any potential anxiety you are facing in regards to public speaking. Keep in mind that this is what any successful worker does: whether in sales, athletics, or politics, experts in these fields envision how they see themselves achieving success beforehand. Think about your success and what it will take. And then DO IT.
3. Practice a lot.
Practice makes you as perfect as you can be. You want to be effective an effective public speaker, and this takes practice. The best public speakers did not immediately become this way; it took time for them to perfect their craft. You will not be perfect immediately, but you always have to start somewhere.
Try and go through a trial run (if not several) before you give the final presentation. You want to be as comfortable as possible, so try and duplicate the exact situation you will be in during the presentation itself. Can you borrow the room your talk will be held in to practice? This will familiarize you with the setting during the final run of your talk, and help you solve any technical errors: it is better to find out your projector is broken the day before you are presenting, rather than the day of. Keeping these factors under control to the best of your ability will help you stay focused for the task at hand.
4. Be presentable.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but how you present yourself is sometimes as important as what you are saying. Depending on the audience, choose appropriate clothing and dress for success. “The better you look, the better you feel, and the better you do,” as the saying goes. Dress the part to show the audience that you mean business, and they may take you more seriously. Looking good will also make you more confident.
5. Be yourself.
Stop trying to be a great “public” speaker by changing who you are. Embrace your persona! Talk to the audience. Pretend you are having a conversation with the audience as if they are your friends. Focus on people and deliver lines directly at them: this can help you to reduce nerves, and will also keep them engaged with what you are discussing.
Being yourself also puts a face to your facts while humanizing yourself in the process. Use stories and reflections from your own life to tie down and strengthen your points. This often helps people remember your points as well.
What are ideas that everyone can relate to? Telling a personal story also helps you settle in. This is a good way to start: not only for you to establish a rhythm, but also to engage the audience. You need them on board right away, because if you start dry, you may have already lost their attention. Try to be yourself as much as you can. If you are a funny person in real life, use jokes in your presentation! There is no harm in using humour. Bear in mind, though, that a bad joke might make a bad impression. Stick to what you know best!
6. Avoid being a perfectionist.
Perfection is not possible, but you need to realize that this is perfectly acceptable. When you make a small mistake, nobody cares but you. Keep going! Laugh it off, even. This shows you are a human, not a machine. Chances are people wont even notice if you miss a word.
Don’t try and have every word memorized to a tee: in fact, you want to avoid this. Gripping a table and speaking in a monotone will never do. You don’t want to sound too rehearsed. Remember, in many ways this is a different version of a conversation, so you want to make it as natural as possible.
7. Engage your audience.
Leave your audience wanting more. And prepare to answer the questions they may have in a question period afterwards if necessary. The best way to do this is to finish on time or even a few minutes early if you are working within a time period.
Give your audience a chance to participate. The talk may be as much for them as it is for you. Ask your audience to provide examples of the ideas you are discussing. Talk WITH them, not just TO them. Involving your audience in your talk makes them more appreciative of what you are discussing, and also makes it more likely that they are engaged and paying attention to your ideas. One of the problems you might have with public speaking is that you feel people are not interested in what you are talking about. Allow them to be interested!
Nobody likes somebody who presents too long. When have you ever heard of someone getting excited that a talk went longer than it was supposed to? This almost never happens. In fact, chances are you will be praised for running short. You would rather have them asking questions and thinking further than overwhelming your audience with information during your presentation.
8. Evaluate your performance.
Are you happy with the way your presentation went? What do you feel went well? What went wrong? Answer these questions and you will help streamline your presentation process in the future and help get rid of your fear of public speaking.
A great way to do this is to ask the audience. There are only so many things you can observe about your own behaviour. Because this is the case, ask select members from the audience for suggestions on how you can improve in the future.
Ask a trusted friend, colleague, or instructor so that you can receive some genuine feedback. Could everyone in the room hear you? Did the presentation make sense? Was it well delivered? Were you clear with your arguments or ideas? Did you answer questions from the audience effectively? You are not always your own best critic, so it is always useful to ask others about your performance. This will help you avoid any problems with your public speaking in the future.
You may have to give many presentations before you become truly comfortable. That is part of the improvement process. Remember that there is always something you can work on to become a better public speaker. It is no easy task to get rid of a fear of public speaking. But practice makes perfect, as they say! Keep working away at it.