Stepping in front of a group of people to speak can be an extremely terrifying experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Every day, millions of people speak in front of others without anxiety or worry. You may never be completely comfortable speaking in front of crowds and may be part of the three-quarters of people who have speech anxiety, but here are a few tips that can help you the next time you have to speak in front of others.
Fake Your Confidence
When you think of good public speakers, one of the things that may stand out is how confident they are in themselves and what they’re saying. Of course, if public speaking makes you nervous, you won’t feel very confident, but that doesn’t mean others have to know that you’re not confident. Instead, pretend that you’re confident. The concept of “fake it till you make it” can really come in handy in public speaking situations.
Even if you’re fighting off panic while you’re getting ready to speak, envision a version of yourself that is perfectly confident and happy and try to be as much like that version of yourself as you can be. Visualizing success is a great tool for making yourself feel more confident. If you can see exactly how you’ll succeed, it’s like you’re walking down a pre-cleared path in the forest instead of some wild underbrush. Focusing on a positive outcome instead of all of the possible bad outcomes can really help you.
Another way to help you feel confident is to wear something that makes you feel confident. This can be different for every person and also dependent on the situation. For a work presentation, you may have to adhere to a workplace dress code, but you can choose a work-appropriate outfit that makes you feel good about yourself as well. Feeling confident in how you look can be very helpful in feeling confident in what you’re saying.
Address Specific Concerns
There are probably specific things that you’re nervous about that may happen during your speech. Although it may be best to not focus on them if you’re about to give your speech, if you have some time, sit down and work through them. Think of what exactly you’re worried about, and play out the scenario in your head. Then think how likely that scenario is to actually happen and what you’ll do if it does happen. A lot of times, we create insane narratives that will very likely never actually happen, and when you shine a light on that fear, you’ll see how unlikely and unrealistic it actually is.
For example, let’s say that you have a fear that you’ll mess up and people will laugh at you. Who are you giving your speech or presentation to? Is it in a serious setting? Realistically, if you mess up, people won’t immediately start laughing. If you let yourself start to fear that they’ll start laughing, you’ll likely continue to mess up your speech, which will add to that fear. If you mess up, just keep going, and the odds are that no one is going to laugh at you. And if they do, who are they to judge anyway?
To be honest, it’s inevitable that something will go wrong. What matters is how you react to something going wrong. If you allow one small mistake, like a mispronounced word or a stutter, to interrupt your entire presentation, it’s now a big, unmissable mistake. To avoid that, accept that you’re going to make a mistake, and when it happens, you can make a small note of it and then just move on.
Think about someone who does public speaking every day for a living, like a car salesperson. Would 6 million cars get sold each year if every time a salesperson misspoke they let it completely derail them? No, likely it wouldn’t happen. Try to shift your mindset and think of your speech as something casual and normal, not as some sort of giant, life-altering event, even if it could be. Thinking of it as something every day and casual means that you can make small mistakes and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Work With Your Audience
Your audience is the real wildcard of your speech or presentation. You can’t control them, although your speech or presentation may be designed to evoke certain emotions or responses from the audience. Try to interact with the audience so you have a better idea of who you’re speaking to. This technique also helps you because it will take some of the pressure off of you — if you’re asking questions, it’s up to the audience to respond, not you.
If you’re nervous, one of the best ways to make yourself less nervous is to actually go through your speech. When you’re practicing it, you have a chance to see what issues you may run into during the speech, and you’ll be able to iron out the wrinkles in the speech before you’re in front of an audience. This is especially helpful if you have a speech-related issue, like a stutter. A stutter can become a long-term issue anytime that a child stutters for more than six months, and being able to tell what words and phrases will trigger your stutter can help you avoid it during your speech.
Once you feel like you have a handle on your speech, consider reading it in front of a few people. Try to choose people that you know will not judge you for any mistakes you make — someone who can give you constructive feedback is also helpful if you feel like you can’t pinpoint what you need to improve. If you can’t find anyone to give your speech to, try recording yourself and listening back to catch and issues you didn’t originally catch.
Speech anxiety can be extremely crippling, but the first step of dealing with it is to seek out ways to fix it. That means you’re already on the right path, and surely your successful speech will follow.