How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking: Tips & Strategies for 2017Last Updated: November 9, 2017
Do you want to be a captivating public speaker, but nerves get the better of you or prevent you from doing it at all? You are not alone. Three quarters of all people suffer from speech anxiety. Here is how you can overcome it.
One of people’s greatest fears—a dread that is understood by any nationality, either gender, anywhere—is public speaking, and it’s unsurprising that there is a huge body of literature on how to overcome fear of public speaking.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”
In business, however, the best public speakers make it look so easy to enthral an audience and deliver a message with real impact. Why is this?
Well… the introductory quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man who knew a thing or two about words, and speaking in public, shows how great speakers are not born, but made.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been in business over four years, and I’ve experienced numerous cringey moments, having made a lot, and I mean a lot of mistakes, whether in front of groups, investor panels, or audiences.
I was a textbook example of public speaking anxiety. I used to get very nervous, leading me to sweat profusely, which I’m sure impacted negatively on my confidence that I can get the message across.
So this blog is for anyone who wants to learn how to overcome fear of public speaking. I wanted to share with you some good examples of top speakers I’ve seen, share some links to videos and articles on how you can improve your skills, and share some of the top tips I’ve been given along the way. I’d also like to offer a few suggestions on what has made me a better public speaker.
My Tips on How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking
“If you can speak, you can influence. If can you influence, you can change lives.”
No one could argue with this words of author and speaker Rob Brown. It is something that we all get. What might surprise you, though, is not so much that public speaking is a thing that is feared more than death. That much you will know already.
However, what you might not appreciate is the mind-boggling numbers of people who are affected by fear of public speaking. In fact, 75 percent of all people suffer from speech anxiety. There is a huge trove of research and articles on the reasons for this, highlighting the same issues: fear of judgement by others; fear of being the centre of attention; feeling nervous; comparing yourself to others; previous failures.
The fact is, public speaking is not easy. It’s a skill, and it requires practice. Putting yourself out there, knowing that no matter what, you will be judged; knowing that people may not like or agree with what you say; being the isolated figure at the top of the room… these things only come naturally to very few people.
However, pretty much anyone can do it, with some work, and a few nudges in the right direction. So for those of you out there who aspire to be a confident storyteller, holding the audience in the palm of your hand, but lack the confidence to do it, consider this post an encouraging nudge. As one who once truly feared public speaking, I really hope the following helps.
How to Speak so People Want to Listen
For starters, here is a brilliant TED Talk by the brilliant, much sought-after international speaker, Julian Treasure. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone with presentation anxiety, or who wants to learn how to overcome fear of public speaking. As a measure of Treasure’s popularity in the public speaking area, his five TED Talks, on various aspects of sound and communication, have been viewed an estimated collective total of 30m times.
My Favourite Public Speakers
I’ve attended many events and heard some fantastic speakers over the past four or five years. Some of these individuals are the very pinnacle of public speaking in the world. They utterly command the attention of the audience, and work in pin-drop silence of rooms full of hundreds-strong audiences. They own the stage, and the audience’s undivided attention. If you urgently need to grasp how to overcome fear of public speaking, check out these people immediately.
Megan is better known as one of Australia’s premier singer/songwriters, but her TED Talk, ‘Why I live in mortal dread of public speaking’, is one of the all time great contributions to discussions on how to overcome fear of public speaking.
I won’t ruin the talk for you, but in general terms it shows how Megan figured out her process for making speaking in public more comfortable for her. I loved the talk because it’s so thought-provoking.
This talk highlights the essential question that people really need to grasp, on a personal basis: What process can I learn that will make it more comfortable for me to speak in public?
How could you not love Gary Vee? He just has a great attitude, is an open book, and whether or not what he’s saying is controversial, he always talks from the heart. That really resonates with me.
Here’s Gary in action, with an amazing talk to entrepreneur students at USC. Typically, he just nails it, perfectly, and with the same attitude of honesty and passion that he brings to all his projects.
One of the speakers I’ve learned a huge amount from is Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh. I have found his ‘Presentation on Presentations’ or PitchDeck 101 to be a great resource for learning how to overcome fear of public speaking. You will learn so much from it!
Ed’s key principles are ‘Practice, Practice and Practice’ but he is extremely illuminating on Impact: or how your story should be clear, concise and get you what you want.
Megan Dalla-Camina authored one of the best pieces about speaking in public I’ve ever read. Published in the Huffington Post this article, 10 Tips for Public Speaking Confidence, has given me a whole raft of fantastic tips on preparing yourself for speaking in public: they’re pragmatic solutions in how to overcome fear of public speaking. I really liked the tip on having a ‘tool kit’ for when you speak in public! The simple breathing exercises are also brilliant. When weight down with the fear and anxiety that threatens to overcome many of us prior to a public speaking engagement, it’s easy to forget the natural things that we do every day—and it’s these little things that Megan Dalla-Camina documents so well in her article. Indispensable stuff.
Another guy I have to reference is Berlin-based Connor Murphy, the co-founder and former CEO of Datahug, the award-winning Irish startup acquired by Nasdaq: CALD. Connor has given me some very easy-to-follow tips for public speaking and pitching an ideas.
- Practice, Practice, and Practice.
- Get away from the crowd and have some time alone before a big pitch.
- Practice where ever you get the opportunity—in schools, colleges or even church!
Another fantastic storyteller is Paul Hayes of Beachhut PR, who MCs at numerous startup events. Paul has indirectly educated many people like me, who learn tons just from watching him on stage! He’s always himself, regardless of audience or event. He asks tough questions, laced with humour, and it works. The audience is always in a state of anticipation—a testament to Paul’s skill. Here he is in action:
Don’t underestimate the skill involved in keeping people’s interest peaked for a sustained length of time. However, the good news is that the observational learning that’s so essential if you are to excel at public speaking is made much easier by the sheer amount of resources online, of which the videos above are only a small sample.
How I Got Better
It’s all very well appreciating the talent of the world’s finest public speakers. The main point of this article is your realisation, because to lead, you must overcome your fear of public speaking. You must be able to talk publicly, regularly and with confidence. And while it’s great to review the achievements of these public speaking exemplars, I want to show you what I did to try to become more like them.
Here are some of the best things that have ever happened to me, good and bad; some pointers on how I overcame my fear of public speaking, what I did to get better at it; and some of the some of the best advice I’ve been given over the years.
😱 Had an excruciating first video shoot
It was not good. I started rocking an imaginary baby—arms clasped like I was holding a baby and swaying from side to side as if rocking it to sleep. I was mortified when the video went public. To be fair, I was really nervous. The experience will stay with me forever! It could only improve from here.
😟 Messed up… lots
Again—not good. And not to be attempted frequently. BUT there is nothing like chill, harsh wind of losing your company money to make you prioritise improving your process for public speaking.
😌 Visited Toastmasters
I visited one of the local branches of the international Toastmasters public speaking organisation. I only went twice, but found the introduction to The Process really great.
😊 Gave talks at Universities
I found this was excellent in the beginning, as it involved talking to smaller audiences, with much less pressure than you’d encounter in a business setting.
😃 Reading in Church
Yes, doing a reading in your church is a great way to overcome your fear of public speaking. It is uncomfortable, and enunciation and annunciation is absolutely key.
😇 Set down a major goal
My major overall goal was to talk in front of 10,000 people at the Web Summit. I began to view every small public speaking engagement as a stepping stone towards the big goal, and so they soon began to seem less daunting.
Final thoughts on How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking
Here are some of the best bits of advice that we at BlueChief Social have received over the years in relation to public speaking.
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Stretch out beforehand and relax. Think big — big pose, big confidence, big impact.
Surround yourself with people or find some time alone (I prefer to be around people).
Don’t forget to breathe.
Run through your presentation in your head, over and over.
Engage the audience. Keeping attention is key.
Observational Learning is essential. Learn from the best. What do they do?
Manage your voice tone, practice your stance, find out what way you present.
Start by speaking in front of smaller groups. Build your audience, talk by talk.
Talk from the head and the heart (Intelligence, Belief, Conviction and Clarity).
So, with that, I wish you the very best of luck in your public speaking adventures. And I bid you goodbye with one thought—because it’s the most obvious point of all, and perhaps the one that is least appreciated. The key thing to remember, if you are reading up on how to overcome fear of public speaking, or if you are extremely nervous prior to a key presentation, is that more often than not, people want you to do well!