I'll admit it. I used to hate public speaking. Standing up in front of a bunch of strangers to talk on my own for half an hour was my idea of hell. And I'm not alone. Pretty much everyone hates public speaking. It's one of our biggest fears. It's only when you've done a few talks that you start to get better, feel more confident – and even enjoy the experience.
I always like to compare public speaking to snowboarding – at first, the learning curve is quite steep and the fear is quite overwhelming. You think you'll never be able to point your board down the slope and go for it. But after a while, once you've fallen down a couple of times, you get the hang of it and everything falls into place. The following tips will help you overcome your fear...
Practice what you're going to say
Whenever I prepare for a speech or public talk, I practice what I'm going to say. I almost learn it off by heart, so it becomes firmly locked in my brain. I practice in front of patient family and friends. I get their feedback and tweak my speech. I refine everything and practice again. When I'm happy, I know I'm ready for the big day. Obviously, don't just read out or recite this prepared script – simply use it as a guideline, so you stay on track.
Talk about things you're passionate about
Let's face it, if you find the subject boring, so will everyone else. Find a topic that you feel passionate about and you'll really engage the audience. Throw in some personal experiences that are close to your heart. Talk about things that make your eyes light up and have your arms waving around enthusiastically. It's the secret to giving a talk that people will find really interesting. Even better, they'll develop an emotional connection with you, and that can be very powerful.
Nerves are a great thing
When you're about to go on stage, it's only natural that you'll have adrenaline coursing through your veins and your heart will feel like it's going to leap out of your chest because it's beating so fast. Don't worry because feeling nervous is actually a great thing. It's the way we humans deal with stressful situations. And that adrenaline will carry you through.
No one will know your nervous
The secret is out! No one will know that your nervous! It's absolutely true. When was the last time you watched someone give a speech? Did they look nervous? Nope, they didn't! But I bet they were.
If you're still worried about looking petrified, go on TED to see how other people work the stage. What's their body language like? How do they talk? What are they doing with their hands? What's their tone of voice? Find someone you admire and copy them.
Take a deep breath and slow down
When you first start speaking, become aware of the pace and tone of your voice. For some reason, I always start off my talks at a slightly higher pitch and I do tend to ramble and talk too fast. By forcing myself to be aware of this, I remember to take a deep breath and calm my voice down.
I remind myself that there's no rush and that I have to talk more slowly to help get my point across. It's quite common for everyone to do this – so when you start to talk, try to be aware of how fast you're going, and slow it down. Making a conscious effort to slow will also have a calming effect.
Pick out one or two friendly faces
Standing in front of an audience of 10 people can be daunting, never mind five hundred! If you're feeling overwhelmed by all of the people staring back at you – try and pick out one or two friendly faces and just talk to them.
I'm always the person in the audience, grinning like an idiot at the speaker and nodding encouragingly at them – because I always love to help other people out… (I hope they don't think I'm some nutter in the audience who's had too much coffee!). Anyway, ignore everyone else – just look at these two friendly faces... it will help calm you down.
Remember, no one is hoping you'll fail
Here's another great point. No one is hoping you'll fail. What kind of sick idiot would wish that anyway? Probably someone who'd never dare to get up on stage and do a speech, that's who! Once you realise the golden secret that everyone is actually on your side and rooting for you, you'll probably relax and enjoy yourself.
People want to listen to you
When I did my first ever talk, I was petrified. Seriously. I was so frightened of standing up in front of everyone, I nearly backed out. I had twenty minutes to talk about Creative Boom to about 50 people. Twenty minutes?!! It seemed like such a long time. But once I got into the swing of things, I started to enjoy myself because I realised people were there to listen to me. They actually wanted to hear my story. They were interested. And I suddenly thought "Hell! I'd better make this interesting and stop being such a wimp!".
Once I realised that I was worthy of having something to say, I started cracking jokes, really looking at my audience and I even went off script a little. It was lots of fun. Remember, people want to listen to you – so enjoy it!
What are you afraid of?
It's a question you should truly ask yourself – what are you afraid of? Are you worried you'll stumble? Well, this is a natural habit of speaking, so don't sweat it.
Are you worried people won't think you're good enough? That's never the case. People always love hearing about others' experiences. Worried you'll trip up or drop something? So what! You'll get a good laugh and it will help you relax.
The greatest talkers still suffer from nerves
Even after years of public speaking, people will still get nervous. Look at the legend that is Tommy Cooper! Apparently, he was a mess before he went on stage to perform his magic tricks and wonderful jokes – but you'd never have guessed it! I bet even the prime minister gets nervous before he addresses a press conference. Just remember – no one is perfect and even the most experienced speakers will get nervous.
Consider the benefits
Finally, to give you an extra boost, consider this: every time you do a public talk, you're not only building your skills, you're also building confidence. That's because you're putting yourself out of your comfort zone and doing something you've never done before.
Consider every public talk an opportunity to improve, and then pat yourself on the back for achieving something you never thought was impossible! You did it! And that's something to be very proud of.