Overcome the Fear
Posted on October 25, 2011 by Gail Danneman
If you are like me, the idea of public speaking can make you feel queasy. The thought of the spotlight on me while I speak and people are watching my every move is daunting. Unfortunately, when we are forced to speak in front of a group of people, our option to run the other way is rarely available. While I consider myself in the middle of the extrovert/introvert scale, public speaking has always been a dreaded situation. I can talk on the phone for hours, interact with friends at a party, but put me in front of a crowd of people and I get very uncomfortable.
My fear of public speaking stems all the way back to my grade school years. At my small, Catholic grade school it was a requirement every year for students to memorize a piece of literature and recite it in front of the class. And, we didn’t recite it just once. Instead, we recited it several times to “practice.” I will never forget the heart-pounding nervousness as we all waited to hear who would be called to recite their poem next. But, thinking back, the worst thing that ever happened was you would forget your lines and your teacher would coach you with the next few words.
At my high school every student was required to take one semester of speech class. If there was one class everyone dreaded, it was this one. We had to give a speech every week and often had little notice to prepare. One of the most nerve wracking speech was the improve speech. We each picked a piece of paper out of a hat with a topic on it and then gave a speech right then and there.
Regardless of how much I disliked my experiences with public speaking in grade school and high school, the skills and confidence I gained are invaluable. My grade school experiences allowed me to master the ability to memorize long texts and feel comfortable delivering them in front of peers. My teachers were able to provide me with valuable pointers that I had not previously considered. How was I to know that I overused “ums” and twirled my hair? My high school experience with speech class allowed me to develop confidence as a speaker. I learned that practicing was an important step for me to feel prepared and comfortable.
If you are like so many others that dislike public speaking, do something about it. In the business world, you will most likely have to be able to speak to groups of people. The best way to overcome this fear is to face it head on. As painful as this idea may sound, sign up for a speech class at your local community college or university. The more you speak in front of people, the more comfortable you will feel. Taking a speech class allows your peers and instructor to point out inappropriate body language or excessive language. Would you rather hear criticism from an instructor or your boss? I’ll take an instructor any day. After all, the goal of most instructors is for you to improve.
Before giving a speech practice, practice, practice! Every speech that I have been excessively nervous about is a result of me knowing that I did not prepare as much as I should have. Speaking in front of a group and feeling under-prepared is not a good feeling. Before giving a speech or presentation, I typically practice the entire thing about four or five times. I time myself to make sure I am not talking too much and I speak out loud and pretend my couch is my audience.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a professor in undergrad was to fake confidence even if I wasn’t feeling confident inside. How do you fake confidence? Wear an outfit that you really like and feel good in. When you feel confident, you will look confident. Rather than looking somber as you speak, make sure you try to smile and show the audience you aren’t in the worst pain of your life (even if you feel like it). And finally, slow down. When we get nervous, we often speed through presentations and talk way too fast.
How do you deal with fears of public speaking?