If the idea of delivering a speech to an audience makes your palms sweat, hopefully you can find some reassurance in the fact that you're not the only one who has this reaction. Research indicates that one in five people experience public speaking anxiety, or PSA, making it one of the most common types of anxiety today.
Here's the good news: other studies have found that, with the right strategies in place for fighting your fears, you can still perform well when you have a public speaking engagement or presentation of any sort. What are a few of these strategies?
When you're nervous, your heart rate speeds up, you begin to sweat, and—if you're not careful—you can easily work yourself into an anxiety attack. To help control all of these responses, take a few minutes before delivering your speech to close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Calm your body so you can enter the stage (or speaking area) with a certain level of peace and not feeling all frenzied.
#2: Admit Your Nervousness
Even the most seasoned public speaker can feel nervous on stage. The harder you try to conceal this nervousness, the easier it will likely show through. Yet, admitting that speaking makes you anxious can actually help put both you and your audience at ease. You feel a sense of relief because now the information is out there, giving you the ability to address your anxiety and move on.
#3: Use (Minimal) Notes
If public speaking makes you anxious, there can be a tendency to write your speech out word for word so you can look at it if you forget your next statement. However, if you've ever watched a speaker read from their notes the entire time they are on stage, you know that this isn't effective. You will lose your audience. Instead, keep your notes to a minimum, using only one- or two-word prompts for each point you want to make. This will help you keep your place without detracting from your audience.
#4: Become Comfortable with "The Pause"
One of the biggest distractions as an audience member is a speaker who constantly says "uh" or "um." These fillers are typically used as a way to say something, anything, while you're thinking of your next point. But some of the best speakers know that "the pause" is not something to avoid. A well-timed break in speaking can even be used to help strengthen a point, letting it sit with the audience before moving on to the next topic. Become more comfortable with this pause and you will become a better public speaker.
#5: Be Aware of Your Hand Gestures
Have you ever talked to someone who is all worked up and noticed that their hands are flailing wildly? Some people naturally speak with their hands. When they're nervous, this type of gesturing can ramp up. While some hand movement is a great way to emphasize certain points, it's also important to not let these movements distract from what you're trying to say. So, pay attention to your hands when you're speaking. Slowing down their movement may also help slow down your brain, creating a greater sense of calm.
#6: Move Around Some, But Not Too Much
People often pace when they're nervous. If this is you, you may have a tendency to walk back and forth across the stage when public speaking. Like with hand gestures, a little bit of movement is okay but too much is, well, too much. Don't be afraid to walk away from the podium, but try not to make your audience feel like they're watching a tennis match either.
#7: Incorporate Visual Prompts
If the idea of having all eyes on you makes you nervous, visual prompts are a good way to divert the audience's attention yet still stay on topic. These prompts can be by way of a slide of an image or graph or something more concrete, such as pouring a half glass of water to emphasize the effect of "living with your glass half full." It might feel good to have their attention diverted, even if only for a moment. Plus, it gives you something to do with your hands.
#8: Practice, Practice, Practice…Then Practice Some More
Mark Twain once said, "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." So, maybe your fear of public speaking comes from not being fully prepared. One way to overcome this, then, is to practice, practice, and practice some more. Each time you deliver your speech, you will become more comfortable. You'll begin to learn it inside and out, increasing your confidence when delivering it for real.
#9: Record Yourself Speaking
This final public speaking tip is intended to help you recognize how you may come across to an audience. When you record yourself speaking and watch it back, you may notice that you do things that you didn't even realize. This provides the opportunity to correct these issues before being in front of a live audience. Another option is to practice your speech in front of a friend or family member and ask for their honest feedback.
Summing Up Public Speaking Tips
Public speaking is a common fear. The good news, however, is that this fear doesn't have to stop you from delivering an amazing speech. These public speaking tips can help you feel some calmness on stage while also better connecting with your audience…making you a more impactful public speaker.