I'll admit it. I used to hate public speaking. To stand up in front of a bunch of strangers to talk on my own for half an hour? It's my idea of hell.
And I'm not alone. Pretty much everyone dislikes it. It's one of our biggest fears. But public speaking only gets better when you've done a few talks. Heck, you might even begin to enjoy it.
I always like to compare public speaking to snowboarding – at first, the learning curve is steep, and the fear overwhelming. You think you'll never be able to point your board down the slope and go for it. But after you've fallen a few times, you get the hang of it. The following tips will help you overcome your fear of standing up and delivering a speech.
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. Don't just read out or recite this prepared script – 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 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 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 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 you're shy! It's true. When was the last time you watched someone give a speech? Did they look tense? 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 – their body language, tone of voice, what they're doing with their hands. 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 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 speak, 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 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 love to help other people (I hope they don't think I'm some nutter in the audience who's had too much coffee). Anyway, ignore everyone else – look at these two friendly faces; it will help calm you down.
Remember, no one is hoping you'll fail
Here's another excellent point. What kind of sick idiot would wish you to fail? Perhaps 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 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 honestly ask yourself. 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! 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 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, but 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.