If the thought of speaking to an audience makes your stomach churn and your heart race, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re solidly in the majority. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 73% of the population manages some degree of public speaking anxiety.
It’s worth noting that this anxiety can manifest itself in different ways. You may find the idea of standing before a crowd downright paralyzing. On the other hand, your fear may present in ways that are uncomfortable but manageable: butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, dry mouth, etc. If your symptoms are severe, you may want to speak to your doctor about how to manage your anxiety. For the rest of us, a few simple tricks can help us put our jitters to good use.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Are you worried you aren’t going to clearly articulate your message, or worse, that you’ll go completely blank and stand before your audience with nothing to offer? I bet both concerns have crossed your mind. Here’s the good news: These worries can be managed with practice. You don’t need to draft every word, but you should write down an outline of key points you want to be sure you hit. Once you know where you’re starting, where you’re ending, and what path you’re taking to get there, give the speech. You don’t have to stand before a mirror and recite it for yourself (although you could) and you don’t need to round up a practice audience. You just need to run through your talk until you’re comfortable with it.
…But Not Too Much
Don’t worry about memorizing your talk from start to finish. Yes, you want to rehearse it. And yes, you want to write down the key points you need to make. Pushing yourself to memorize your talk, however, can backfire. Walk through it with me: You’ve opened your speech just the way you planned. It’s going well. You’ve made your first point. You’re cruising in on nailing your second point and then you flub a line. The slip has you rattled. You stutter trying to get the phrasing back on track. Your worse fears about this speech are coming true. Sound familiar? Take a deep breath and remember what I said. Don’t worry about memorizing your talk. Practicing what you want to say is not the same as memorizing how you want to say it. Be prepared and be flexible. Not having to worry about recalling the exact verbiage of your speech can actually help you relax and deliver a great talk. Try it.
Make It a Group Effort
Fear of public speaking begins with an inward focus. “What will people think of me? Will they be judging me?” When we try to combat our fears with tricks like avoiding eye contact, we allow that inward focus to amplify. Shift your focus outward (and in doing so, release some of that pressure) by engaging your audience. Ask them questions. Make eye contact. Pay attention to audience feedback. If they chuckle, give the laughter room to nestle (n other words, pause and let the moment exist). If they seem puzzled or disconnected with the material, adjust accordingly (another good reason not to be wedded to a specific script!).
Keep It Simple
Timeless sage Confucius once said, “Keep it simple and focus on what matters. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.” I’m pretty sure Confucius wasn’t about to offer the keynote at an industry conference or address the annual company meeting. That doesn’t mean his advice isn’t applicable to you as you prepare to do so. Tell the audience what you need to in order to drive home your point. Don’t overburden them or you with a litany of extraneous info. It not only clouds your message, but it also adds more complex layers for you to manage in your prep and delivery.
Audiences connect with authentic speakers. They connect with people willing to be vulnerable and believable. Let me put that into terms that may put your mind a bit more at ease: Your audience isn’t looking for you to be spot-on polished. They don’t need you to nail each line just as you wrote it with robotic precision. If you flub a line or lose your place, take a deep breath and know that your audience relates and they are rooting for you. Refocus and get back on track without letting the slip derail the rest of your talk.