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Two Powerful Steps to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

Stacey Hanke
Stacey Hanke

If the thought of public speaking makes you panic, remember these two crucial things.

Does the thought of public speaking make you panic? You’re not alone.

More than 70 percent of the population is affected by what scientists call glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Glossophobia is a commonly known social anxiety disorder that ranges in severity. Whether you suffer greatly and go to great lengths to avoid group presentations, or you merely get butterflies before taking the stage, a fear of public speaking has been shown to significantly impact the way you deliver a message.

Being in the spotlight isn’t what triggers anxiety, but rather a deep-seated concern for how we will be perceived once we take center stage. None of us wants to look nervous and unsure when stepping in front of an audience. If we do, we know the audience will question whether we truly understand our topic and are credible enough to speak on the matter.

We all want to be able to inspire an audience to willingly act upon what we have to say. The ability to influence others doesn’t start and stop in a high-stakes conversation, but instead requires the discipline of using consistent communication skills.

If you want to exude confidence and credibility when stepping into a public-speaking situation, you must change your approach. Begin by working on your daily communication skills in every interaction and every medium. Here are two powerful steps to do just that.

1. Remember It's About Them, Not You

Public-speaking situations are no different than your daily interactions. They are extensions of the conversations you have every day. When you take the stage, everyone wants to see you succeed. They want to see the same person they see day in and day out. They don’t sit in the audience to judge your mistakes; they sit and listen because they want to learn from what you have to say.

Instead of believing the presentation is about you, remember it is about your audience and what they want to gain from listening to you. The next time you’re preparing for a presentation, consider these ideas:

  • No one knows when you mess up. Only you know your material, and only you will be aware of any mistakes. Don’t focus on messing up; instead, consider the information you’re trying to deliver and concentrate on educating your audience.
  • Focus on the audience’s needs.  What matters most is that your audience hears the information in such a way that compels them to act upon it. Before you prepare your presentation, and even when you’re delivering it, consider what the audience needs, first and foremost. They are giving you their time, and you want them leaving the room feeling it was time well spent.
  • They deserve the best you. When your audience steps into that room, they trust that by giving you their time, you will give them information to help them meet their needs. They expect you to know your information and be able to deliver it in a way that is understandable and free of distraction. Consider first the best use of their time instead of getting caught up in what you think is most important.

2. Be Deliberate and Prepare Daily

Think back to when you were in school. There always seemed to be two types of students. The first type attended class routinely, took prudent notes and reviewed the information frequently, and seemed cool and calm on test day. They made good grades and didn’t lose sleep over how prepared they were for a high-stakes situation. The other type of student had inconsistent attendance, note taking and reading. They were often found cramming the night before an exam, showing up exhausted and frazzled about whether they’d even pass.

This same scenario holds true for public speaking. If you only practice your communication skills at the last minute, you’re setting yourself up for chaos. If you practice strong, consistent communication skills each day, in each conversational scenario, you’ll develop habits that become second nature. You’ll rely on these habits when speaking in front of others.

To practice communication skills that will strengthen your influence as much onstage as off, consider these tips:

  • Find valued feedback. Seek out peers and colleagues whom you trust to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Allow them to be honest about which areas present the best opportunity for growth.
  • Record yourself and immediately watch or listen to the playback. Denying bad habits is easier when you hear it in the form of feedback from others; however, when you see it on video with your own eyes, denial is all but impossible.
  • Listen for how often you use non-words such as “uh” and “um.” Deliberately work on removing these from your speech. If you are transitioning between thoughts or considering what to say next, take a pause. This silent moment will allow you time to think and provide your listeners a way to move on to the next topic.
  • Pace yourself. Listen to the rate at which you speak, and adjust accordingly. Many people speak too quickly when they are nervous. Pay attention to your pace in each interaction.

Before your next presentation, make it about your audience. Ensure you meet their needs and use their time wisely. Prepare and practice your communication skills daily so that when you step into the spotlight, you provide your message in a manner that is consistent with your communication style. When you recognize that a presentation is nothing more than you in the day-to-day, delivering information to meet others’ needs, you’ll be able to deliver with impact and influence.

Image Credit: garetsworkshop/Shutterstock
Stacey Hanke
Stacey Hanke Member
Stacey Hanke is author of the book; Influence Redefined…Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday®. She is also co-author of the book; Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A To Z To Influence Others To Take Action. Stacey is founder of Stacey Hanke Inc. She has trained and presented to thousands to rid business leaders of bad body language habits and to choose words wisely in the financial industry to the healthcare industry to government and everyone in between. Her client list is vast from Coca-Cola, FedEx, Kohl’s, United States Army, Navy and Air Force, Publicis Media, Nationwide, US Cellular, Pfizer, GE, General Mills and Abbvie. Her team works with Directors up to the C-Suite. In addition to her client list, she has been the Emcee for Tedx. She has inspired thousands as a featured guest on media outlets including; The New York Times, Forbes, SmartMoney magazine, Business Week, Lifetime Network, Chicago WGN and WLS-AM. She is a Certified Speaking Professional—a valuable accreditation earned by less than 10% of speakers worldwide.