Uncomfortable in the Spotlight? Here Are 4 Tips to Overcome Your Fears

Mark Twain said, “There are only two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and liars.” If you suffer from a fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, you’re in good company. Some of the world’s most successful people dread public speaking. It’s extremely common and can affect anyone. Here is some advice to make public speaking less daunting and even help you learn to enjoy it.

Perfect the content of your presentation.

If you’ve been asked to deliver a presentation, it’s crucial to completely understand what your audience wants to hear. Ask questions about the topic or event until you’re completely comfortable with what is being asked of you. It’s much more enjoyable to give a speech when you know the audience will find value in what you have to say.

It’s also important to speak to the audience in a language they understand. Be careful to avoid jargon if listeners wouldn’t be familiar with it. The purpose of a presentation is to transfer knowledge, so the audience must be able to follow along.

Also consider utilizing visual aids in your presentation to creatively convey information and keep the audience engaged. Additionally, visuals can take some pressure off you, the speaker, by explaining parts of your content. A picture is worth a thousand words, so let it do some of the work for you.

Practice, practice, practice!

You’ve heard the expression “practice makes perfect.” It’s especially true for public speaking. This doesn’t mean you need to memorize your entire speech, which 1) can pressure you to stick to the script, or 2) make for a boring speech as you mechanically tick through your talking points. Practice ensures you fully understand the content of your presentation and will help it flow naturally. The more time you take to finesse your presentation, the better.

Often, we become too focused on the speaking element of a presentation. “How do I sound?” “Oh, I can’t forget to say that.” But one of the most important pieces of public speaking is mastering nonverbal cues. Everyone has nervous ticks – some people can’t make eye contact while others overuse hand gestures. It’s important to watch yourself speak, identify any fidgeting and modify the behavior. For example, if you realize you tend to make distracting hand gestures while speaking, practice only using them to emphasize key points. The stance you take while speaking also sends a message. Standing up straight and making eye contact allows you to appear confident in what you are communicating. Even if the confidence is an act, fake it until you make it!

It is also important to be comfortable with the environment of the presentation. If you are using technology in your speech, practice using it before the big day and, if possible, in the room where it will take place. Familiarizing yourself with the space, the technology and the content of your presentation will make you more comfortable when the time comes to share it.

Remember to breathe.

When the day of your presentation arrives, your nerves might be at an all-time high. If you’ve been practicing the content and feel comfortable, don’t overwhelm yourself by rehearsing right before the presentation, which can cause you to second guess yourself and become anxious. Instead, take time to focus on the intangibles of the day:

  • Choose an outfit that makes you feel your best. Now is not the time to experiment with an adventurous new look. Wear something that gives you a confidence boost – if you feel good, that self-esteem will be visible during the presentation.
  • Don’t present on an empty stomach. It’s normal to be too nervous to eat before public speaking but make time for a quick bite. If you’re standing in front of an audience for an extended amount of time, the last thing you want is to become lightheaded. Give your body fuel so it can perform at its best.
  • As best you can, eliminate possible stressors from the day. Arrive to the event early to avoid feeling flustered, become familiar with the space (if you haven’t already) and get set up. When it’s time to speak, take deep breaths and remember you are prepared for this.

Look for opportunities to grow.

This tip may be the hardest to execute because it involves intentionally making yourself uncomfortable. If you avoid public speaking and only do it when absolutely necessary, you’re missing out on several opportunities for growth. Many organizations exist for the sole purpose of helping professionals develop their public speaking skills, such as Toastmasters.

If searching for opportunities to practice doesn’t appeal to you, try asking your audience for feedback when you speak publicly. Appoint one person in the audience to give you honest feedback after your presentation and use each presentation as a learning experience.

The fear of public speaking may be difficult to overcome, but your attitude affects the outcome. Relax, speak slowly and remember confidence is key, even if you’re faking it.

This post was written by Lovell Communications’ intern Natalie Simpson.