5 ways to conquer your fear of public speaking

Does the thought of giving a presentation give you hives? Do you freeze when someone hands you a microphone? Instead of butterflies in your stomach, do you have a blender? You’re not alone.

Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is a real thing. The word stems from the Greek glōssa, meaning tongue, and phobos, meaning fear or dread. It’s estimated that 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety, making it one of the most common phobias that exists. If you’d rather have a root canal than make a presentation, you may have a touch of glossophobia.

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Help is within reach! With proper preparation, you can muffle the blender and speak out with confidence and eloquence.

1. Don’t just wing it—plan ahead.
As tempting as it may be to procrastinate, don’t do it. Schedule plenty of time to do your research and writing. The best public speakers—the ones who make it look effortless—spend hours preparing. They know their topic inside and out. They identify their audience and adapt their content accordingly. They write, edit and re-write. If you’re struggling with content, consider consulting with a professional speech writer who can help you organize your thoughts and prepare a script for you.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice. Then, practice some more.
For the most effective results, practice your speech in several shorter sessions instead of cramming the day before. Begin by giving your speech aloud in front of a mirror. Speak slowly; a common mistake when nervous is to talk too fast. Always err on the side of too slow. Try to look up more and more, working on eye contact and adding an occasional smile. Record yourself with an iPad or video camera for the full effect. Notice your body language. Are you hunched over in fear, or standing tall with confidence? Are you swaying back and forth? Are you clutching your notecards like life buoys? Once you’ve reviewed and tweaked your delivery, it’s time to enlist your trusted friends. Give your complete presentation for them and ask for honest feedback.

3. Arrive early.
You want to be comfortable in your speaking environment, so get there early to scope out the joint. This gives you a little breathing room and time to acclimate to the space. Will you use a clip-on or hand-held mic? Is there a podium where you can stash a bottle of water? Will somebody be introducing you? If you’ve got a PowerPoint or other slides, is somebody there to assist you in setting up the projector? Technology is a fantastic tool…when it works. Be sure to take a few minutes to click through your slides and make sure there are batteries in the remote. Get yourself a drink of water and don’t forget a quick restroom break.

4. Envision success.
When you’re in the restroom (or another private area), take several deep, cleansing breaths. Close your eyes and envision yourself in front of the audience—charming, confident and calm. Positive thoughts will unplug your inner blender and relieve some of your anxiety. Then, smile and strike a power pose. Sound crazy? It actually works. Think of Wonder Woman with her hands on her hips or a runner winning a race with his chin high and arms in a big V as he crosses the finish line. This action raises the testosterone levels in the body and reduces stress hormone levels, giving you a boost as you prepare to “wow” your audience. Now, straighten your tie, check your fly and make sure you don’t have spinach in your teeth. You look great! Now go get ‘em.

5. Expect knocking knees.
No matter how prepared you are, a few jitters are normal. If your knees are knocking, simply start behind the podium and nobody will notice. Relax. Smile. Breathe and begin. You are prepared and your notecards are in front of you, in case you need them. Speak slowly and clearly, just like you practiced. If you happen to lose track of what you’re saying or your mind goes blank, simply pause and find your spot. While it may feel like an eternity to you, it is likely only a few seconds to your audience.

Once you’re finished, give yourself a little pat on the back. Kick your inner critic to the curb and recognize that you’ve just conquered something 75% of the population fears. Plus, it beats the heck out of a root canal.

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