Let’s face it: fear of speaking in public, a.k.a. glossophobia, is common to many of us, whether we are new to this or expert presenters. I still remember some of my early opportunities to stand in front of a crowd and how scared I felt: scared about forgetting my text. Scared about not being good enough. But mostly, scared of being judged.
Years of experience later, I now enjoy it to the fullest, be it in front of a small audience – which, believe me, can be much harder – or a large one.
Irrespective of whether you need to get ready for an important sales pitch, a keynote presentation or even, for a “simple” wedding toast, you will be offered countless opportunities to stand and speak in public. Can it feel uncomfortable? Yes. Will you feel judged? Probably. But do you have the ability to feel good about it? Definitely yes!
Being able to master the art of communication is key to each and everyone of us, both in our personal or professional lives. Handling the fear of public speaking can come through many ways. One of them being about building the right level of confidence to effectively communicate a message and connect with your audience.
My aim is to give you some of the foundational advice that helped me in my journey and could help you manage the fear that can come with speaking in public:
1. Know your audience
It might seem as the simplest advice but believe me, it is way too often forgotten to focus on the content instead. Knowing your audience is key: Who are they (e.g. Background, age, gender, role…)? What are their expectations? What do they want to take away from your presentation?
There is a reason your audience is in the room and for your pitch to be powerful, you need to figure it out and provide value accordingly.
2. Know your environment
Whether it is a physical or virtual location, you need to know your venue. If it is a physical location, get there ahead of time, walk around, sit in the audience and test the equipment. If it is a virtual session, test your setup ahead of the main event, get a feeling of the voice but also video feedbacks.
That approach will help you feel comfortable with your setup, better prepare yourself for the big moment, visualize your success and mostly, support you in becoming a stronger storyteller.
3. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
At times, it will get uncomfortable and you will need to deal with it. In business meetings for example, situations might occur where an attendee has to leave the room and will come back at a later stage of your presentation. There, re-integrating that person into your story would be the right thing to do.
Other uncomfortable situations might be related to some technical aspects, environmental ones like noise and small talks. Focusing on your audience and remaining connected with them will always get you through this.
4. Connect with your listeners
We all have been at least once in a room where the presenter was solely focused on getting through his/her slides and completely forgetting the most important: the audience. Indeed, connecting with your public is crucial and is usually achieved through emotions. Those can come from three elements: the audience, the content and you.
- For your content, I would recommend to leverage stories, images, comparisons and other similar cues that can only make your message much more powerful and reliable to your audience.
- This, in turn, will help generate emotions with your listeners – Laughs, tears, smiles, questionings…will make your presence much more memorable.
- Finally, telling your audience how you feel will be a strong part in the connection you will establish with them.
5. Own the space
There are many ways to make your story much more powerful. Some of those definitely include your body language (e.g. straight posture, purposeful gestures…), the right level of eye contact to connect with individuals but also the moderation of your pitch (e.g. Ton of the voice, speed of the pitch, pauses to emphasize an idea or your breathing).
Moreover, owning your space when on stage is as important in order to rightfully connect with your audience. A good way of achieving it on stage could be to purposefully move from one side to the other while re-establishing eye contact with new individuals and formulating a statement.
6. Find your own style
We all have been watching videos of amazing public speakers and been amazed by their performance, sometimes to the point of trying to adopt their style. I strongly believe in the fact that everyone can and should find his/her own style, one to feel comfortable with. Some presenters are of the visual type, others are the “data scientist” one or the storyteller. Knowing your own style will help you feel more comfortable and authentic which will positively impact your connection with the audience.
Conscious practice and feedbacks will help you figuring out your own style and build upon it.
In his book “Outliers”, Malcom Gladwell defined that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” were required in order to become world-class in any field. Whether it is 10,000 or 5,000 is not the point. The point is that practice will make you better. It means that you should take every single opportunity to consciously practice your presentation skills, be it during a business meeting, a class or simply in front of your family…if there is an opportunity, seize it!
An effective tool in order to achieve this is to record yourself and watch it while paying attention to the tips we have covered. This will allow you to have a critical eye on your performance and improve with time.
Readiness can come in many activities: preparing a strong story line, your setup or visualizing your success. Preparation will make you feel more confident about your performance and will help you make a stronger impact.
9. Ask for feedback
After every speech, get used to ask for feedback and get ready to not like what you’ll hear. It is the best way to learn from your mistakes and improve. After all, you are speaking to and for an audience and they are the best placed to assess your performance. Some good questions you may ask are:
- What is the thing you liked the most about my presentation?
- What are the two things you would suggest me to improve to make my presentation more engaging?
10. Have Fun!
I believe I could share all advice possible but none of those would match the most important of all: have fun! Indeed, the more fun you’ll have presenting, the more likely you’d like to do it again and as such, the better you’ll get at it – I call it: “the cycle of self-improvement”.
A good way of achieving this would be to understand what drives and excites you and work on having more of this in your presentations. As an example: I enjoy telling stories and take every opportunity to do so, which in turn makes my presentation more enjoyable to me and hopefully, to my audience.
There is so much more to public speaking but those advice are some I consider foundational and that helped me over time. They should open up new ways of approaching the process and should not be a restrictive list.
I’d be delighted to get your perspective on those tips and get answers to the following questions in order to share further insights in my next article:
- What is the one you found the most useful?
- Which one do you believe is the most difficult to apply?
- What is the advice you would like me to dig deeper into?
I am taking pleasure in sharing some of the key learnings I have made throughout not only my career, but also my life. My aim is and remains to make a difference and I do hope this will impact you in a positive way.
Remember: get out there, practice and enjoy the process!