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The Fear of Public Speaking & 3 Tools to Overcome It

Public Relations

The Fear of Public Speaking & 3 Tools to Overcome It image 2013 09 11 12.46.44 444x444

The Difference Between Fear and Nervous Energy

Everyone gets at least a little nervous before speaking in front of a crowd (yes, everyone). It’s normal and it’s healthy and it’s a good thing. Why? Because it shows that you care about the result. I’ve delivered hundreds of keynote speeches in my career and I still experience that nervous energy before speaking to a crowd.

But there’s nervousness and then there’s outright fear.

What if you are struck with fear at the prospect of standing in front of an audience and giving a talk?

I recommend three things to overcome this natural fear of public speaking. They are in increasing order of difficulty/time commitment.

3 Tools to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking:

Memorize a little

Memorize the first 30 seconds to a minute of your talk. It gets you past that really awkward first few seconds that cause the most fear. And, as soon as you are halfway through your opening (memorized) part, the audience is already starting to warm up. You’ll feel that, and it calms you down. It’s a great trick, and it also works. Try it and see.

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Use notes to distill

Too many people assume that when you are speaking in public, you can’t or shouldn’t use notes. Bah, not so! I think this assumption just piles on the fear of public speaking and causes people to think they have to create the ultimate high-wire performance and win over a rapt and swooning audience with no net underneath them.

Here’s how I use notes: I sketch out the “bones” of my talk. Then, I practice with those notes, making sure I’ve got my key points in the right order. Once I’ve got the order I want, I “distill.” This means I delete from my notes anything that’s not absolutely necessary to make my point. Finally, I add back in the stories that will help me illustrate these key points in BOLD RED PRINT, knowing that if I need to glance at my notes during a talk, the stories will jump out at me. A story has more color and depth than a fact or key point, so I always make sure I’ve got my best stories close at hand.

What I think you will find is that just knowing that your notes are near you will help take the edge off. You’ll find that you don’t even refer to your notes, but like good friends, they are there if you need them.

Join Toastmasters or do Improv training

Toastmasters is an incredibly welcoming club that helps people work on different aspects of speaking such as structure, content and taking out filler words like “uh, um, like, you know, sort of, etc.” These clubs create a safe, supportive place to learn different speaking techniques and work on the fear component. I’ve seen people transformed from painfully shy introverts with an incredible fear of public speaking to very confident and competent speakers.

If that sounds like too much structure, I recommend Improv training. The practice of getting up on a stage with nothing in your mind is intimidating and wonderful. When I did this training, I was worried I would just look like a fool (and sometimes I did!). But just like Toastmasters, your group supports you through the experience and helps you overcome that fear of public speaking.

By the end, I was itching to jump up on stage and give it a go, even though I had no idea what would happen. After that experience, any talk feels well-prepared and ready to go!

If you need more resources, here are my three favorite books on presentations:

  • 1. Resonate by Nancy Duarte
  • 2. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
  • 3. Mindset by Carol Dweck

*This is not a book about presentations, but about understanding what’s going on inside of you in order to help you get centered, which is key when speaking in public.

Have some more questions about my speaking experience? Don’t be afraid to reach out directly!

Comments on this Article: 1

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  1. Travis says:

    I remember as a child in front of our class freezing with the inability to speak. The fear of public speaking is certainly one of the greatest and most common fears. Thanks for sharing your resources.

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