5 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking (From a Textbook Introvert)
It was November 11, 2003.
The mood was solemn, violins filled the school hall, and I was about to brace the stage.
This moment, my moment, was a significant one.
I’d been chosen to recite the beautiful war poem, In Flanders Fields, in front of the entire school for Remembrance Day.
I took a step forward, adjusted my microphone and… laughed.
A shrill, uncontrollable laugh.
This was my first foray into public speaking and it was a fucking disaster.
Full disclosure: I was not yet a teenager and I was nervous. My uncontrollable laughter couldn’t have been any more painful or inappropriate.
It was so painful, that I kept my mouth well away from a microphone for the 13 years that followed. 13. Whole. Years.
Maybe, in your own way, you can relate.
Public speaking is something that horrifies most of us.
I’ve watched founders and CEOs and influencers and accomplished people, who are accustomed to doing scary things all the time, FREAK OUT when confronted with a microphone and a stage.
Public speaking turns powerhouses into petrified pre-teens.
Why? Because it feels unnatural to stand up in front of a crowd. You have to worry about sounding smart. And intelligible. And coming across well. And what do you do with your hands. (Side note: Why is it always the hands?!)
But while you may feel like you’ll never be comfortable public speaking, allow my story to prove you wrong.
Here are my tried-and-tested ways to make presentations, meetings, speeches and otherwise feel much, much easier.
Remember that nobody’s watching that closely
We’ve all heard the age-old advice: “just imagine everyone in the audience is naked”.
Firstly, ew. Thanks, but I’m good. Secondly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be panicking way too much to paint that visual picture.
Instead, I find it helpful to remind myself that nobody’s watching that closely. Ever. The only person who will be analysing and dissecting your presentation is you. Want proof?
TAKE YOUR TIME. EVEN WHEN IT FEELS uncomfortable. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT FEELS uncomfortable.
When I started public speaking, my speed rivalled Busta Rhymes. Over time, however, I’ve learned that our sense of speed while on stage is seriously skewed. If you feel like you’re speaking slowly, you’re probably not.
Be mindful of your speed from the moment you start speaking. Pace it out. Breathe! Often! Pronounce your words loudly and clearly. There’s no such thing as too articulate.
If someone with limited English wouldn’t understand it, don’t say it.
aim for INTEGRITY, always
“Thank you so much for having me. I’ll admit, I’m slightly nervous to be up here, but really excited to share my story, so here goes…”
^ I opened a recent speech with this line and you know what? It worked. The crowd were more engaged because I was actually engaging with them on a human level, and I was more at ease as a result. Win, win, win!
If the opportunity allows, own up to being nervous at the beginning of your speech. It’ll make you feel more relaxed. Promise.
PRACTICE, BUT DON'T OVER PRACTICE
It’s easy to feel like you need to rehearse a billion times over, but my advice is simple: don’t. Seriously. Don’t fill your mind with things you have to say and remember and do.
Over preparing for public speaking is what causes those dread mind blanks every introvert fears.
Let your adrenaline drive you.
FIND INSPIRATION IN THE RIGHT PLACES
Ahead of a recent speech, my first instinct was to watch as many TED talks as humanely possible.
Minor problem: I’m not an American dude.
And if I try and sound more like one? God help us all.
To avoid picking up pointers from people who sound nothing like you, watch speeches by people who have a similar pitch and approach to yours. If they can do it, so can you. Why silence yourself?
Ultimately, I had a choice. I could keep hiding away from public speaking or I could do the uncomfortable thing and go out and try it.
There are few people who feel perfectly comfortable up on a stage. The point is to feel the fear and do it anyway. Far from embarrassing yourself, you’ll inspire those around you if you do.
Hey, you might even inspire yourself, too.