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How to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking

Oct 16, 2013 11:50PM ● By Erin Frisch

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is a common phobia that falls into the category of performance anxiety. It ranges from slight nervousness to paralyzing fear and even panic attacks. People who don’t often speak in public either avoid it completely or struggle through the task, shaking and sweating, and speaking with a quavering voice. If this sounds like you, don’t worry; there are many techniques that can be used to minimize this fear. With the right preparation and practice, you can overcome your fear and speak publicly without worry. Next time you are preparing to speak in a public forum, try some of these tips to reduce your anxiety.

Before you speak:

● Know your topic and your audience. If you know and understand your topic inside and out, you’ll be less likely to make a mistake while speaking and less likely to wander off your topic; and if you do, you’ll be able to recover more easily. Think about the questions that your talk might elicit from the audience, and be prepared for them ahead of time. Additionally, if you have some time to mingle before you have to get up to the microphone, get to know your audience.

● Organize, organize, organize. Gather and organize your information well ahead of when you have to speak. Create an outline of talking points, complete with any audiovisual aids or props you will need. Ensure that the venue where you’ll be speaking will be able to accommodate these aids and props. Once you have your outline down, print it on numbered index cards that you can flip through to keep yourself on topic. Greater organization leads to less anxiety!

● Practice makes perfect. Well, no one is perfect, but practicing your complete presentation several times will help you feel prepared and less nervous. Ask a few close friends or family members to watch and offer feedback. Alternatively, record yourself and watch for places where there are opportunities for improvement. Public speaking is a skill that with practice can be developed by anyone. Make sure you do this well in advance though, rather than just prior to your speech. In the half hour before you speak, try to relax and follow the next tip!

● Do some deep breathing and visualize yourself succeeding. Relaxation and visualization techniques actually work. Before you head up to the microphone, do a little deep breathing. Put one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Take two to three deep, slow breaths, where your hand on your belly is rising, while the one on your chest stays still. This abdominal breathing can be very calming. While you are taking your deep breaths, visualize each part of your speech, from your approach to the podium, through your content, all the way to the applause following your speech.

While you are speaking:

● Focus on your material, rather than on your audience. The audience will be paying more attention to the information you are presenting than to your exact delivery. They most likely will not notice your nervousness or any small mistakes you may make. And even if they do, remember that most of them share your anxiety about speaking in public. This means that they won’t be judging you and are actually in your corner. They want you to succeed!

● Let go of the perfectionist inside you. Don’t let perfectionism paralyze you. There is no such thing as the perfect speech or the perfect moment. If you have prepared to the best of your ability, understand thoroughly what you are going to be talking about, and are passionate about your topic, that will all come across in your presentation. You don’t have to be perfect to be a good speaker; just speak from the heart, and your passion and sincerity will come through.

● Don't be afraid of a moment of silence. It can seem like forever if even a short moment of silence goes by. No matter how long it might feel, in reality it has probably been only a few seconds. So if you lose your place or you draw a blank, take a slow, deep breath and press on. Your audience may even appreciate the pause to better consider what you’re saying.

After you speak:

● Pat yourself on the back. Take a moment after you’ve finished speaking or presenting and recognize your success. Again, no one is a perfect speaker, so instead of criticizing yourself for any mistakes you may have made, look at them as opportunities to learn from and improve on in the future. Also, we tend to be more critical of ourselves than other people are. Your audience may not have noticed any blips that you were aware of. Reward yourself for your success, and applaud yourself for having had the courage to get up and speak in public in spite of your fear.

If you are still struggling after employing some of these strategies, there are groups that exist solely to support people who have a difficult time with public speaking. Toastmasters International is probably the best-known of these. An international nonprofit organization with local chapters, Toastmasters works to train people to improve both speaking and leadership skills.

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