“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.”
Eminem said it best while painting a particularly compelling picture of stage fright, so let’s just borrow his words.
The song resonates because it describes an incredibly acute personal fear. For many, public speaking is enemy number one. So if you can picture yourself in place of the kid in Eminem’s song – the one with vomit on his sweater – you’re not alone. Research shows that 75% of people have some sort of speech anxiety, and fear of public speaking. Psychology Today has included public speaking – and generally performing in front of crowds – as an experience people fear more than death!
The fear’s real. But here’s the great news – it’s also something that can be dealt with. And here’s the real secret: Public speakers aren’t nerveless champions without a single thread of fear running through them. They’re just like you — except they’ve worked at it.
So let’s get working. Here are five power tips to overcome that fear of public speaking.
1. It’s in the preparation
The more you prepare, the less you leave to chance. The better you know your speech, the more confident you’ll be delivering it. This sounds like a no-brainer, but don’t expect to stand and deliver brilliantly on the big day when you’re giving your critical presentation. Practice giving that presentation brilliantly time and again so it’ll be second nature by the time you stand up in front of your peers.
Think of it in terms of cognitive load on your brain. If your presentation has already been loaded into the brain’s long-term memory, you’re immediately more confident.
2. Some at a time, please
There’s something about large crowds that throws everyone. Even today, after some 10 years of public speaking and hosting some of the region’s biggest events, I can’t get over the size of the crowds Bruce Springsteen plays to every time he throws a concert. Just looking at that sea of people in their thousands, all shouting and screaming, makes a cold sweat break out.
Luckily, I have a solution. Never think of your audience as one big mass. Instead, make eye contact with people one or two at a time. Look for friends. Look for people nodding appreciatively. Create connections with them. Engage them by including them in the conversation. Even in an audience of hundreds, genuinely connecting with a few makes it manageable and gives you a boost.
I still don’t know how Bruce does it, though. Legend.
3. Make it your party
Think about it. You might be nervous going to other people’s parties. But socially, you’re more at ease when people are coming to your home instead. It’s your turf, and you know where the cutlery is.
So turn your presentation venue or stage into your home. Get there early – before your audience does, if you can. Pace the venue. Walk the talk; actually walk the venue. It helps your brain take control of the space, and become comfortable in it. It’s rather the intellectual equivalent of dogs peeing against a fire hydrant to mark their territory.
4. What could go wrong?
Sound. And lights. And presentation slides. In all my time hosting events for seas of people, this trifecta has always been the most crucial – and the most troublesome. It involves co-ordination between you, the sound technicians and the light experts, for one thing. And technology has a way of acting up at the worst possible times.
So let’s defeat the obvious tech gremlins first – by ensuring your presentation is working on the venue’s computer, that you’re comfortable with the lights aimed at you, and that your sound is working well. Look at my point just above – if you show up early to make it your party, you will have time to run through your presentation and do a sound check. Never say no to a rehearsal, or a chance to check your sound.
5. But nerves will happen
Here’s the bottom line – nerves will happen. They happen to the best of us. And if you know how nerves will impact you and your delivery, you’re already a step ahead.
Now, I’ve seen stressed male speakers on stage. Their default is to pace, and become jerkier in their movements. Adrenaline causes the voice to pitch higher. Meanwhile, women under stress on stage sometimes fold up and try to occupy less space.
If you are aware how stress will affect your delivery, you can come up with coping mechanisms. Uncross those arms, and slow that delivery down.
So I hope these five tips will help conquer your fear of public speaking. Go get ‘em! And once you’re ready for more advanced tips on presenting on stage, you can check out my article here. Or find out how becoming a better speaker also makes you a better leader. Good luck!