How to overcome the fear of public speaking

Peter Botting
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Here's how to master public speaking (Source: Wikimedia)

For many people, public speaking is not easy. For some people, it is simply terrifying. Speaking in front a large crowd, particularly of your peers, has been likened to the trauma of buying a house, going through a divorce or going to the dentist. Of course, it is far worse when your career depends on it and the stakes are high.

You may be an expert in your field with the best degrees and qualifications but having to express your ideas and opinions to a group of people can still be a terrifying ordeal. Some of the people I work with at TEDMED are, by definition, the world leaders and experts in their field but that doesn't make them immune from nerves or simple fear.

So the first thing to know is that a fear of public speaking is natural. The second thing to know is that there are two types of fear - the pre-speaking nerves and the fear that tries to ambush you while you are speaking!

There are several ways of addressing both - here are six fear-busting public speaking tips.

1. Understand what you want to say and why it is of benefit to your audience. If you believe your message will benefit your audience you have an obligation to tell them and to do so in a clear and compelling way. If you are fibbing - you deserve the fear!

2. Practice is mandatory. Legendary golf champion Gary Player said that he got luckier the more he practised and that is 100 per cent true. You need to practice the words in your mouth and be at home with your message. Not once or twice - 20 times is a minimum.

3. Don’t calm down. Trying to force yourself to calm down will not end well. You will sound strained and are likely to wind yourself up even more. Instead of telling yourself to calm down transfer your feelings into energy. It’s easier to change nerves into excitement than trying to calm yourself down.

4. Understand your audience. Knowing more about your audience will make you feel less like you are talking to a group of strangers and more like a bunch of friends. I was on the Daily Politics show recently and a friend reminded me that I was talking to me - what he meant was - I was talking to people just like me. This calmed me and focused me. Knowing who your audience also allows you to fit your speech to your audience’s needs and vocabulary and helps you to find common ground.

5. Tell a story. We are all natural storytellers. Telling a story will allow you to speak with greater fluency, will make you more engaging to your audience and will allow you to tackle your nerves.

6. Breath slowly and deeply from the bottom of your belly. Pause. Smile. And keep speaking.

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