Whether it’s to inform, to persuade, or to entertain, everyone has tried public speaking, and we shudder at those memories. We’ve all been there: show-and-tell, class recitals, oral participation, PowerPoint presentations, graduation speech, declamation contests, etc. We have been secretly taught the art of public speaking in school, yet we still feel uncomfortable doing it. Here is how to overcome that discomfort with 10 easy steps.
Public speaking: why we fear the spotlight
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
― Jerry Seinfeld
Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, can be a reasonable fear. While most of us don’t mind standing in front of our and speaking out our minds, we would definitely not feel the same way in front of a large group of people. Unlike dancing or playing an instrument onstage, everyone not only listens to your voice but also how you “talk” with your body.
1. We feel that the size of the audience magnifies any of our mistakes
Since everything we do is witnessed by a large amount of people, we immediately multiply the severity of one small error by the number of people who saw it, turning it into one massive accident that we believe would scar us for life. Thus, mispronouncing one word in front of 100 people feels like mispronouncing it 100 times.
2. We fear the risk of criticism
“You suck!” would hurt more coming from a random spectator than from your best friend, at least during public speaking. This is because strangers’ criticisms are neutral; they have no biases and thus they can be as frank as they want to. Thus, we perceive this unbiased reaction as what our performance really is, and we start prioritizing their opinions over ours.
3. Engaging in one-way verbal communication can be awkward
Unless you’re in a rally or a quiz bee, it is common courtesy for an audience to remain quiet while someone in front is talking. However, if you’re the one talking, that silence can be unnerving. Whenever you pause to think or wait for the stern-faced audience to process your words, hearing no immediate feedback even for just a few seconds can leave one guessing (or perhaps worrying) whether you slipped up or not.
What you should do
Unpreparedness is one’s greatest enemy, as the maxim goes. Unless you were randomly picked from the audience by the emcee to recite on the spot, you should have enough time to prepare for your delivery.
1. Before the storm
- Analyze the contents of your draft: Review your speech/presentation and check for coherence, grammar, and train of thought.
- Memorize your lines: Read it out loud and include the appropriate gestures. Non-verbal cmmunication is also key.
- Simulate your delivery to a smaller, more familiar audience: Recite it in front of your parents, siblings, or friends. Ask them afterwards for feedback. This is very helpful in overcoming stage fright, as simulating the real deal in a more casual setting will help you relax.
2. During delivery
- Show up on time, neatly groomed and well-dressed: You are the center of attention for the whole time you are in front. Since outward appearances make a great first impression, make sure you look presentable.
- Simulate temporary narcissism: “I got this; I’m too perfect to mess up.” When you feel conceited, you don’t care what other people think of you. You’re confident with what you do and say, and this suppresses your nervousness.
- Make eye contact with your audience: Once in a while, choose a random audience member and look him straight in the eye for a few seconds, then shift to the whole crowd. Repeat. This psychologically minimizes your audience from one big collective throng, to one person at a time.
- Be passionate with your speech: Another issue is your body language. Unless you’re reading from a lectern, you won’t look too good if you just stand there with only your lips moving. Be passionate and expressive with your lines! Feel the emotion and picture the image within each word, and your body will move on its own.
3. After the show
- Take some time to wind down: If you still have goosebumps or a pounding heart, relax for a while. You just delivered a terrific presentation, and you deserve to rest, physically and mentally.
- Focus on what you were able to accomplish: Don’t think about that time when you missed a word or nearly slipped. What’s important is the message you delivered, and that is all that matters.
- Ask an audience member how you did: Feedback, positive or negative, should always be appreciated. They are what drives us to improve when we fail, or pursue bigger goals when we succeed. Public speaking, like all skills, needs practice to perfect, and it’s an endeavor worth the time and effort.
Public speaking plays a large role in the professional world. Many jobs involve this, so it is a skill worth mastering.
Maina, Antony. (2015). 16 Ways to Overcome Stage Fright When Speaking in Public. Retrieved from www.smallbiztrends.com
Schreiber, Lisa. (2010). Introduction to Public Speaking.
Wyeth, Sims (2014). 10 Reasons Eye Contact Is Everything in Public Speaking. Retrieved from www.inc.com