You’ve done your fair share of public speaking engagements in the past. But, your experience doesn’t change this one simple fact: It still makes you nervous.
Those feelings of anxiety can be difficult to deal with. And, even further, you’re worried that your nerves are detracting from the overall message of your speech.
It’s a relatable issue. In fact, an estimated 80% of people fall into this camp. So, what can you do? How can you increase your confidence and deliver an impactful speech—despite your nervous feelings? Here are six tips to combat your fear of public speaking and better engage your listeners:
1. Show up prepared
This first point might seem painfully obvious. But, it’s too important to skip mentioning altogether.
If the idea of public speaking already inspires some nerves, the last thing you want to do is show up unprepared and wing your entire presentation. The more groundwork you can do ahead of time, the more confident you’ll feel walking into that room.
So, take the time to jot down your notes and rehearse your speech (more on that in a moment) ahead of time. If you anticipate some questions from the audience, it’s also wise to map out responses to the inquiries that you think might arise. That way, you won’t run the risk of being caught totally off guard.
You’re familiar with that old “practice makes perfect” cliché. And, when it comes to public speaking, that sentiment really holds some water.
While you don’t want to be so over-rehearsed that you deliver your presentation like a robot, there’s nothing wrong with dedicating some time to run through your speech a couple of times.
Practice in front of a mirror so that you can keep an eye on your body language. Or, record yourself so that you can go back and watch for any ticks or errors that you want to fix.
Rehearsing in front of a friend, a colleague or a family member is also a great way to get some helpful feedback on what you can improve.
3. Perfect your body language
Negative body language weakens your message with contradictory and distracting facial expressions and movements. What you’re not saying holds even more impact than the words that are coming out of your mouth.
For that reason, it’s important that your body language remains positive. For example, Lillian Glass, a body language expert and author of “The Body Language Advantage,” says you need to have your head up at all times. “Confident people are always looking up, never down at the ground or their feet,” she says. “You have to always pretend that there’s a string holding the crown of your head up.”
Nonverbal cues like that will make you look more self-assured when speaking in public.
4. Speak slower
When our nerves kick in, our heart rates speeds up—which often leads to our speech pattern speeding up as well. That’s why nervous speakers often blaze through their presentation while the audience is struggling to keep up.
As eager as you might be to get your presentation over with, you need to give your audience the opportunity to absorb and digest what’s being said. The best place to start? By speaking purposefully slow.
Slowing down is a question of punctuation. Ensure you punctuate your speech by controlling and changing up your pace, inserting focused pauses, and taking the time to breathe more frequently (more on this below). You’ll not only command the attention of your audience, you’ll also deliver a stronger and more persuasive presentation.
5. Breathe more often
Because of our biological response to speed up when presented with uncomfortable situations, we often forget to adequately breathe when speaking in public. However, better breathing offers numerous benefits—including calming your nerves and reducing tension in the neck and shoulders that can inhibit your best natural voice.
So, when rehearsing your speech, identify the moments where you can pause naturally and get a good, calming breath in. Doing so will help you reduce your anxiety.
6. Accept imperfection
Many of the worries we experience related to public speaking result from the idea that our presentations need to be flawless. Keep in mind that even the best, most engaging speakers in the world have slipups. To relieve some of the pressure, try switching your perspective. Think of your speech as more of a casual conversation – as your chance to share your knowledge with a larger group of people. This change of mindset will work wonders in reducing your nerves and increasing your comfort level.
Finally, here’s an interesting infographic from Tommy John, that you can use as a resource when you’re feeling outside of your comfort zone.