Tips for Overcoming your Fear of Public Speaking (part 1)

Too often we make things bigger than they have to be, and that’s definitely the case with public speaking. It is still rated as the number one fear for North Americans, and many others around the world. That reputation has also fed this phobia to keep it at the top of the list.

From personal experience, here are a few aspects that contributed to my fear of public speaking:

• I didn’t want to sound like an idiot in front of other people.

• I convinced myself that I would forget everything I’d have to say once I got in front of my audience.

Today I love speaking in front of people, and it doesn’t matter the size of the crowd. Let me share with you a few tips I’ve learnt to help you conquer your fear of public speaking.

Preparation of Talk

Benjamin Franklin said, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”. When giving a “talk” (that’s how I like to refer to speeches of any kind) I prepare well in advanced for it. Even if you do not have the luxury of time there is a framework you can use to prepare your talk. Just like writing an essay, build an outline of your talk using the titles of Introduction, Main Body, and Conclusion. “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna say, say it, and tell ‘em what you said”, as the old adage goes, it’s just that simple.

In the Dale Carnegie course “Breakthrough to Success” I learnt to use plain language that everyone can understand. Many people feel the need to include big words or technical jargon to make their talk more impressive, but it doesn’t.

I was also encouraged to never write out my whole talk. Instead I remembered three or four key points that my talk was built around. This took a lot of the pressure off of me as I didn’t have to memorize every word and every line.

Each point was illustrated with a story that acted as an anchor in the audience’s mind and makes the talk extremely effective. Think about it, when you listen to someone give a “speech” to you what stood out in your mind. Aren’t memorable speeches covered with analogies, and stories that touch different emotions within us? Use the stories and analogies as bridges in your mind to connect you from one point to the next.

A key point to remember as well is no one knows every word you are going to say, so if you get stuck, draw a blank, or missed something just move on and no one will know. Don’t apologize either. Apologizing for missing something makes the situation more awkward for you and your audience.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It is how the good become great, and a few of the greats become legendary by practicing as much as possible. Knowing your material and practicing delivering it numerous times alleviates the majority of fear built up inside. I used many opportunities while I’m alone to go over my talk. It doesn’t have to be from start to finish every time, but it helps cement the points of your talk in your head. So when I’m driving, in the shower, or at my desk and I know I’m alone I just go over my talk. As time drew closer to delivering my talk I would then start timing it. It is difficult at first, but once you persevere the timing becomes easier, and it’s almost as if you have a countdown timer in your head. A small suggestion is if it’s a fifteen-minute talk you have to give, practice to finish 30 seconds or a minute earlier. No one likes to listen to a person that rambles on, and if your audience knows you allotted time, they’ll be checking their watches.

In part two of How I Overcame My Fear of Public Speaking And How You Can Too, I will discuss finding your authentic voice and delivery style for giving your talk. For now, remember these three points: one) it’s just a talk not a speech, two) write out three or four points you want your audience to remember, anchor them with stories and analogies that also act as bridges from one point to another, and three) practice, practice, practice!!

Brian Toppin