3 Tips to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

What are you scared of? We are all scared of something. Often it’s the obvious fears that bedevil us, such as spiders, rats or… contemporary dance. However, some people have very unique fears that are the stuff of their nightmares – Omphalophobia, the fear of navels, comes to mind, as does Somniphobia, the fear of falling asleep.

Of course fear doesn’t have to take such tangible forms. In our professional lives we all encounter fear, the adrenaline rush (fight or flight) when told we have been selected to present to a new client or represent the company at a public speaking engagement.

There is nothing like an impending presentation to take you out of your comfort zone. It is as if life has shifted from whatever you were happily doing before to a new phase – a phase that drips with dread, as time ticks towards that allotted hour. In the lead up, you will spend your waking hours, your evenings, your weekends, not to mention the quiet hours of night when you should really be at rest, thinking, plotting, planning and quite probably sweating over the scenario that is coming your way.

Your demeanor will shift from confidence (‘I’ve got this’) to anxiety (‘What if it’s rubbish?’ ‘What if I go blank?’, ‘What if they hate me?’), and the whole process may leave you feeling drained, confused and possibly a little nauseous. Is it any wonder that fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death (1 and 2) according to studies?!

Ok, so let’s end the doom and gloom right there. Just ask yourself one simple question: What’s the worst that can happen?

Are you the first person in the history of time to make a presentation? (No). If it goes badly, will your career be in tatters? (No). Does your very life depend on it? (No). I can confidently predict this: You will deliver your presentation, pitch or speech and it really won’t be as bad you think.

Feeling better?… If you have recently completed a public speaking engagement, then probably (‘piece of cake’, ‘don’t know what I was worrying about’ etc etc). On the other hand, if you have a public speaking engagement coming up soon, then the answer is probably not. If that’s the case, here are a handful of tips to help:

Just as a hypnotist will distract their subject in order to tap into their subconscious, you must trick yourself into dispensing with fear. In the lead up, and on the actual day, don’t give those negative thoughts air to breathe. Tell yourself that YOU are the best person for this job, chosen for a reason, and what you are going to deliver will inspire and engage your audience. Make it your mantra. Believe it!

Whether it is the night demons howling their loudest worst case scenarios when you really should be falling asleep, or the irreverent murmur of the conference room seconds before you deliver your presentation, calm yourself down with deep breaths (from the diaphragm) that will stop your mind racing, relax your body and bring a sense of calm.

Be prepared. Rehearse what you’re going to say. Why? Words behave differently in speech than they do on the page (the first time your audience hears them aloud should not be the first time you do!). Hearing the speech out loud will often throw up phrases that sound strange or vague or out of place in a far more obvious way than reading them back. Finally, if you are familiar with your speech, then it is far easier to repeat it before an audience.

In the words of US president Franklin D, Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was talking about the depth of the great depression gripping the country he had just become president of in his inaugural speech. Maybe that’s something to think about the next time you are lying in bed worrying about your next presentation…

Luan de Burgh

August 2016

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.