Conquer Public Speaking Stress

There is an art and a science to public speaking. There is what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you can move the needle in either area, you will have made yourself a better speaker.

According to people who poll on such things, at one point public speaking was listed as the number one thing people fear most. If so many people are troubled by public speaking, how can you conquer it? I will offer three suggestions: 1. Change your mind frame, 2. practice, practice, practice, and 3. time yourself (to increase your confidence)

1. Change your mind frame

What mortifies so many people about public speaking is thought of messing up and having people judge us or talk about us afterward. Two things are helpful to remember here: One, our talk is usually not that huge of a deal in someone else’s life. If I give a talk somewhere, and it goes sideways, the people who listened to me are just going to go on to the next thing in their day. They won’t expend too much energy for too long thinking about me. Two, since so many people recognize their own fear of public speaking, there will be an element of sympathy mixed into their response. Bottom line: Even if the absolute worst happens, it isn’t that bad. Hopefully, that thought will help you keep your talk in perspective.

For many of us, when we hate something, we don’t want to do it. People hate giving a speech, so they often do not put the work in to adequately prepare and practice it. Then they try and work on it and get stressed out, so they again set it aside or they rush through their preparation. Or, the person is an extrovert, and they don’t mind the idea of talking in front of people, so they think it will be easy. They try to wing it, it goes badly, and now they hate public speaking. In both scenarios, it wasn’t the public speaking, it was the lack of preparation that was the problem.

Here’s why public speaking is awesome: You get your topic and time in advance, you get to practice as much as you need to, and then you are done. Social anxiety is a real thing for a lot of people. But when it comes to public speaking, all the anxiety of meeting or making small talk with strangers is removed from the situation. You have these perfectly defined parameters.

Changing the way you look at public speaking is the biggest key. When you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude. It might sound like a cliche, but it’s true.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Back before answering machines and texting, human beings had to talk to each other on phones. Those of us who are introverts would often practice what we were going to say before we called the other person. I guess we were afraid the person on the other end of the line would ask, “Why did you call me?” and we would be left speechless. No one ever came out and asked me that, but the fear was there.

A speech gives us this wonderful opportunity to practice over and over at sounding knowledgeable, wise, and funny. It gives us a chance to really think things through and offer people some kind of meaningful insight for living their lives. It is an amazing opportunity to help people.

Why wouldn’t we want to practice and make the most of such an opportunity?

Because speeches are a verbal form of communication, you should spend more time verbalizing (practicing) your speech then you spend writing it. It’s not enough for the words to look good on paper, you want your speech to sound good and flow smoothly as you stand in front of your audience.

3. Time yourself (to increase your confidence)

It fascinates me that people are given general time parameters for a speech, and when I ask them how long they are planning on going, their answers sometimes indicate they are not really sure.

Speaking for an appropriate length of time is hugely important. If you go too short, you look like you did not take the opportunity seriously. If you go too long, your audience gets restless. They get uncomfortable and that makes you uncomfortable. Many listeners feel like they are being disrespected when a speaker goes too long. This is such an easily correctable issue. You don’t have to be the Abe Lincoln of public speaking to meet expectations regarding length.

Time yourself when you practice and take a few seconds before hand to imagine being in front of the crowd. If that gives you a little adrenaline spike, then good. Some people talk faster when they’re a little nervous, so feeling that adrenaline when you practice will give you a more accurate reading on your time.

Knowing that your talk will fit within the time parameters assigned to you will give you something positive to focus on. You can’t always promise you will deliver a great speech, but you can promise you can be finished on time.

Public speaking intimidates people, but it doesn’t have to. If you can make yourself comfortable with doing something that most people don’t want to do, there is value in that.