This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
Commonly known for being feared more than death, public speaking is something few want to do and even fewer do well.
Even reading that sentence might stir up some anxiety in you.
As a professional, public speaking is going to be common in your career and it is a skill needed to rise to the top. As you progress onto new promotions and responsibilities, you’ll start contributing more to meetings, managing a small team, managing a large team, and hopefully managing a company.
With each development, it is likely you’ll speak more often, to more people, with higher stakes.
Speaking well isn’t an innate ability only a lucky percentage of people have. It is a skill that can be learned and acquired through practice.
Let’s review why public speaking is so hard in the first place.
WHY PUBLIC SPEAKING IS SO HARD
The fear of public speaking, also called glossophobia, can be attributable to a mixture of many things resulting from genetics, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Before a speech, you’ll notice some common symptoms start to develop:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
- Feeling of your stomach dropping
Fight or flight response
These feelings are associated with the body’s fight or flight response, which relates to one explanation for our fear of public speaking.
In our evolutionary history as humans, having eyes on us was perceived as threatening.
Eyes on us could have meant that predators were watching so we needed to be ready to move and protect ourselves. This is why muscles tense up and heart rate and blood pressure rise. The body is preparing to protect itself.
However, when speaking in front of a crowd, there is obviously no threat of danger and we know this. Our hard wiring is still programmed to react with anxiety and panic.
This response can be improved upon and controlled and our tips later will help you do this.
Fear of failure
Another reason we fear public speaking is that we are scared to fail and look stupid in front of others.
This ties back to another evolutionary trait of humans. We don’t want to be excluded from the tribe. Back in the hunter and gatherer days, your survival depended on being accepted and part of a tribe.
When we fear looking stupid in front of others, such as our colleagues at work, we fear that we will be left out of the tribe if we don’t prove we can fit in.
Fear from trauma
Fearing failure can also stem from a traumatic experience that has stuck with someone through time.
Maybe they had a negative experience speaking in front of a class when they were 10 years old. The experience was so traumatic and embarrassing, the thought alone of having to speak in front of crowds is crippling to this day.
Genetics and biology
Some are predisposed with conditions that make them more susceptible to having anxiety while public speaking.
The makeup of the chemicals and wiring in the brain and body could make someone fall into a panic attack more easily than someone else. This makeup can also affect how the individual reacts to panic and his or her ability to calm the body down.
4 BENEFITS OF BEING GOOD AT PUBLIC SPEAKING
When you are skilled and confident at something a majority of the population is scared to do, there are naturally benefits you are offered that others are unable to take advantage of.
1. Your ideas are understood
The first benefit is that your ideas are clearly communicated and understood when you are effective at speaking publicly.
With clear, concise, and engaging messaging, your audience has a better chance of understanding your key takeaways.
If you spoke with common issues such as stuttering, a shaky voice, a quiet voice, or some other nervous tick, the audience would have trouble focusing and getting your point.
2. Leverage to speak to many at once
The more comfortable you are at speaking in front of crowds, the more opportunity you have to communicate to hundreds or thousands at once.
3. You can connect and persuade an entire room full of people.
If you are pitching yourself, a product or a service, you have the chance to make an impact on everyone at once.
This is more efficient than selling to someone one on one. However, if you fear public speaking, selling one on one is the only way you could sell in person.
Public speaking isn’t easy and everyone knows this. Even the best of them.
Due to this, people tend to have more respect for those that can speak to a crowd.
In their eyes, you can come off as someone who is prepared, confident, and comfortable in the face of a common fear.
To continue off the point above, public speaking will open up new doors of opportunities for you.
You might speak your way into a promotion by catching the eye of an executive at your company when delivering an effective and engaging presentation.
If you are delivering pitches to potential clients or customers, speaking with confidence and precision can show your audience that you know your stuff and mean business.
Maybe you are an entrepreneur and have your own products, services, and events you put on.
Taking advantage of opportunities to speak at events and in interviews gives you a platform to connect with an audience and promote yourself and your brand.
This can give you the leap you need to get to the next level.
10 TIPS TO IMPROVE ON PUBLIC SPEAKING AND OVERCOME FEAR AND ANXIETY
1. Speak as often as you can
The best way to overcome the fear of public speaking is by speaking as often as you can.
This is referred to as “exposure therapy” in psychology. It involves exposing an individual to their fear so they can recognize it, learn to cope, and handle the causes of their fear.
Seeking out opportunities to speak doesn’t need to lead to a large speech every time.
Speaking can include…
- Voicing your opinion in a meeting of 6 people
- Giving a pep rally to your team of 10 at work
- Giving a toast at a family dinner
- Hosting a conference call
- Even asking everyone at the basketball courts if they are ready to run 5 on 5.
The point is to expose yourself as often as possible to situations that involve you speaking to a group of 2 or more.
Exposure therapy will show you over time that your fear isn’t as scary as you think.
2. Take a public speaking class
The next best thing to speaking more is to take a public speaking class. If you are a college student or at least have a university nearby, they should offer a class on public speaking or communications.
I talked about how a communications class was the most important class I took in college in this post here.
The reason it was the best class I took was that it prepared me all around for public speaking.
In these classes, you don’t just overcome the fear of speaking through the required speeches, but you also learn the structure of a great speech and how to become a captivating storyteller.
You’ll learn that pauses are okay and they actually improve your messaging. You’ll learn how to have stage presence and exhibit welcoming and confident body language.
A public speaking class is a double-positive by enabling you to overcome your fear of speaking while also teaching you other ways to become an effective speaker.
3. Prepare and practice
Have you ever heard a variation of the saying “Proper preparation prevents poor performance?”
I couldn’t agree more for public speaking.
When you are up on stage and in a panic, it’s common to freeze and have your mind go blank. Suddenly you can’t remember things that you thought were second nature to you.
The best way to combat this is to prepare and practice.
You should know your topic thoroughly and organize your thoughts and structure of the presentation. Once you have that foundation set, it comes down to practice.
Practice your speech out loud as often as possible, in different locations, and in front of friends or family if you can.
You can practice in the mirror to monitor how you look and what gestures you want to use.
Speak in the backyard and imagine the patio is your stage. You can practice your stage presence.
Even ditch the visuals and record a voice memo on your phone. By listening to an audio file, you can get feedback on how you sound and where you should tweak things to deliver something more clearly or with more impact.
All the while during this practice, you have been speaking over and over again. With each run-through, you build confidence and cement the speech in your head.
Once you arrive on stage, the speech is fluid to you and you are prepared to perform.
4. Exercise frequently and before speeches
I am currently reading the book Spark, by John J. Ratey to learn more about the science of how exercise impacts the brain. I know exercise is beneficial from my own self-reflection of how I feel and perform when I don’t exercise versus when I do.
In the book, John goes into the explanation behind exercise having profound positive benefits on your learning, performance, mood, and outlook.
Here are some ways exercise can help you manage your fear of public speaking:
- A workout can relieve tension and stress in your muscles
- A positive rush of hormones and endorphins are released
- Exercise improves alertness, attention, and motivation
- Exercise enables your synapses and neurotransmitters to communicate efficiently, which can help you in the preparation of your speech and recalling your speech if you freeze and forget what you needed to say.
- When you exercise, your heart rate increases fast along with your breathing. Well what happens before you begin a speech? Your heart rate increases along with your breathing. When you exercise, you become accustomed to an increase in heart rate and you know that everything is okay when that happens. This can help you realize things will be okay when you notice your heart rate start to rise moments before a speech. This awareness will come in handy with managing anxiety and keeping it from growing.
- Finally, exercise can build confidence within you. The changes in your body and improvements in strength and performance can help you feel better about yourself in all areas of your life. Confidence in life can lead to confidence in your speech
5. Focus on slowing your heart rate and relaxing
Before your speech is about to begin, your heart rate skyrockets and triggers off a chain reaction of fight or flight responses.
You’ll need to focus on relaxing and slowing your heart rate.
I have found that the best way to do this is to breathe deeply. By breathing deeply and slowly, your heart rate will eventually follow and slow down as the calm breath signals to the mind that things are okay and you aren’t in danger.
Try out box breathing, which is a method of breathing where you…
- Breathe in for 5 seconds
- Hold for 5 seconds
- Exhale for 5 seconds
- And hold for 5 seconds
Then you repeat that process until you are calm.
6. Power pose before and visualize
Prime your mind and body before a speech. This will include visualization of you going out there and killing it in front of the crowd and delivering a memorable speech.
You can also prep your hormones by implementing what is called “power posing.” You have probably heard about it before from this famous Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy.
She walks through several “power poses” that can have an uplifting effect on your mood and confidence on a hormonal level. These poses of power dominance trick the body into thinking it is dominant, which helps in mustering up the courage to go out and talk.
Strike these poses in the minutes before you speak. Go to a restroom and strike these poses if you don’t want people to see you.
7. Have an alter ego and fake it till you become it
Something goofy but effective that you can try is to have an alter ego.
Maybe the current you is afraid of public speaking and is shy.
You can create your alter ego, “Super You,” who isn’t scared of anything. He or she is willing to take on any challenge, even public speaking.
By taking on an alter ego, you are stepping outside of your own reality and acting as someone else. It’s sometimes easier to act in front of a crowd as someone else than it is to be yourself.
In your mind, when the crowd is judging, they are only judging your alter ego, not your actual self. And this is okay with your mind, allowing you to feel more comfortable.
In addition to having an alter ego, you can also fake it till you make it.
Fake and act like you are a seasoned public speaker. Act like you are confident and have done this 1,000 times before.
Your artificial confidence will soon grow into real confidence. There is nothing wrong with taking on an alter ego and faking it till you make it.
Do whatever helps you!
8. Focus on specific individuals in an audience
While giving your talk, try to focus on speaking to specific individuals throughout the audience. These individuals can be friends, family and colleagues.
By speaking to individuals it can make it easier to speak because you are having a conversation with one person rather than an entire audience of people.
Furthermore, making eye contact throughout the crowd is beneficial from the audience’s perspective.
Healthy eye contact sends positive body language signals to the crowd. It shows the speaker is comfortable and confident in what they are saying.
9. Keep relaxed and confident posture
Be conscious of how your body is behaving during a talk. You want to portray that you are relaxed and confident.
Stay loose and move your body naturally. Avoid tensing up and staying planted in one spot.
By moving around and having stage presence, you’ll become comfortable on the stage, further improving your speech.
Staying upright with your shoulders back will communicate to the crowd that you are confident and the posture itself will help you feel more dominant through this variety of a “power pose” we mentioned in tip 6.
10. Be aware of how fast you’re talking
When you are speaking publicly and filled with anxiety, its common for you to begin speaking fast.
To improve your speaking, focus on maintaining a normal pace of speech for the majority of a talk and speed up or slow down the pace to emphasize points in the speech.
Speaking fast is likely caused by an increase in breathing pace.
Again, focus on slowing down your breath which will slow down your breathing.
When you speak fast, the audience will sense that you are nervous and it will be hard for them to keep up with what you are saying.
When you control the pace you are talking at, you control the messaging with your audience.
The content of what you say is powerful, but the delivery of that content is equally important.
The speed you say things and the tone you say things in offer other mediums of communication to your audience outside of your words.
A fear of public speaking may never entirely go away, but it can be managed.
Humans are wired to perceive speaking in front of crowds as a threat, even if we consciously know there is no threat of danger.
Even those whose job it is to speak in front of crowds often say they still feel nervous and get butterflies before going on.
The ability to still move forward and go out there comes from their confidence and experience in speaking.
Public speaking is a skill that can be built through learning and practice. In this post, we offered you 10 tips you can try out to become a better public speaker and overcome fear and anxiety.