4 Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

August 12, 2017 - SOPHIE THOMPSON

You must communicate effectively to be successful

The fear of public speaking, known as Glossophobia, is the most common fear in the world. It ranks higher than the fear of death, suggesting that most people would rather die than stand up and speak to an audience. So the first thing to remember is that your fear is totally normal.

With this in mind, one of the key skills for your resume are communication-focused, with 83% of human resource directors saying employees who couldn’t develop social skills would not become ‘high performers’.

So, if you can be one of the few to overcome your fear, this is a brilliant skill for your resume and you’ll be able to accelerate more quickly in your career, as well as be more confident in your personal life. The core of being a great public speaker lies predominantly in one thing: confidence.

Public speaking skills are important for your career

GMAT study on skills companies demand in new graduate business school hires.

Oral communication skills, listening skills, written communication and presentation skills are among the most in-demand skills for employers. Communication skills have become essential to advancing your career and improving future opportunities in life and the workplace.

Here are 4 tips to reduce your fear of public speaking so you can start improving your communication skills.

Tip #1: Practice aloud

This is the most important point – you need to practice, over and over again. You can practice in front of friends or family for feedback, join your local Toastmasters club or use a virtual reality (VR) app. VR apps are highly effective at tricking the brain into thinking the audience in the app is real.

This is a great way of bridging the gap between practicing in front of a mirror to practicing in front of a group of people (something that you might avoid altogether depending on your fear of public speaking).

Public Speaking VR can also track your eye contact and give you feedback on aspects of your speaking such as hesitation words and tone of voice. You can also listen back to yourself to hear what doesn’t sound quite right when said aloud. Take particular notice of the pitch of your voice.

Remember, the human voice is in theory capable of paying 24 notes on the musical scale. Most people only use 3 in their everyday speech so if you can incorporate more then you’re already well on your way to becoming an interesting and engaging public speaker.

Tip #2: Remember why you’re there

Usually you are on stage because people value your expertise and knowledge - or at the very least, whoever has put you there has confidence in your capability. You might be speaking about a recent publication, or a branch of research you successfully tested.

Use this thought to try and relax- people aren’t there to give you a hard time. In fact, most people are probably just grateful it’s you speaking on stage and not them! To understand audience behaviour in more detail, check out our public speaking course, with a detailed section on understanding your audience.

TEDx theatre in VR for public speaking practice

Make sure you prepare your speech and research the size of the venue beforehand.

To ensure you connect with your audience, you need to plan your speech accordingly. For example, don’t use jargon or acronyms if your audience is from a different industry to yours. Keep your language and your slides as simple as possible and don’t have slides covered in speech.

Tip #3: Have a script, but don’t memorise it

What are people most afraid of? Forgetting what to say in front of hundreds of people. Even the most notable public speakers in history have used scripts, forgotten what they were going to say, and then panicked. The fear of public speaking can consume all we think about.

This might seem really daunting at first and will increase your anxiety levels just thinking about not having the safety of a script. However, remember that when you have a script you tend to either read from it (and therefore lose your connection with the audience) or you memorise it word for word. The problem with the second method is that if you lose your place, you’ll panic, stumble, and not know what to say next.

A better approach is to make your script into a series of bullet points or, better yet, a list of themes or connecting sentences on a cue card. This will make the speech sounds more authentic and less rehearsed, and you’ll be more likely to show your passion for your topic when speaking from your heart rather than your head.

Tip #4: Don’t rely on technology

If there was something more nerve wracking than forgetting the lines of your speech, it would be for a live demo to fail. It is a horrible, gut wrenching feeling. One way to have more confidence and reduce your fear of public speaking on the day is to make sure you have a backup such as a video showing of your presentation or a second method of presentation.

Computer breaks during a presentation

Make sure you're prepared for technology breaking, including your slides now working!

For example, if you’re using PowerPoint software and the computer or projector isn’t working, it can be handy to have printed out the presentation for the audience (and yourself if you need it). Similarly, you should import your presentation offline so that if the internet doesn’t work, you can still present without becoming flustered.

The secret to overcoming your fear of public speaking is preparation, because that will leave you feeling more confident in your ability as an excellent public speaker, able to deliver a clear, engaging speech.