"The fear of speaking is rated as only second to the fear of snakes and before the fear of dying." I read that on some Web site the other day, and I had to laugh. Who did they poll for that particular piece of information? There have been times when I would gladly have babysat Boa Constrictors rather than make a speech in front of strangers.
From what I've read, the fear of public speaking arises from the fact that people don't want to look foolish or stupid in front of their peers and other people. I also think it's a feeling of being out of control -- what if your mind goes blank or you start to ramble incoherently? It may also be a control issue -- if you're a novice, you don't really feel like you have control over how the audience will receive you.
For those of us not in the sales, marketing, or entertainment fields, a fear of speaking can make us physically ill. Unfortunately, there's no magic courage pill you can take. But there are some tips for being successful at speaking.
- Leave nothing to chance. Lay out your strategies, have your material ready, line up a contingency plan (in case a joke bombs, for example), and practice what you're going to say often and out loud.
- Take a deep breath before the presentation. It sounds clichéd, but it is biologically effective at lowering your heart rate, and subsequently, your nervousness.
- Keep it slow and steady. Pause when you need to take a breath; you'll think better.
- Tell stories. Stories will get your idea across much better than charts and graphs and numbers. They also have the added benefit of helping to engage your audience.
- Prepare for more than time will allow. Time flies when you're up there, and you may speak quickly out of nervousness.
- Understand that your audience is on your side. They want to hear what you have to say and to see you do well.
Anybody else have any tips for conquering the fear of public speaking?
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.