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Believe it or not, glossophobia is one of the most common fears that nearly everyone will experience once in their professional endeavors. This fancy name is the term for anxiety about public speaking — no matter if it’s in a small meeting room, in an interview or on a big, TedX stage.
Because standing in front of people you may or may know puts you in a potentially vulnerable position, many usually confident folks crumble under the pressure, jumbling words, pacing or being unable to mutter anything. If this sounds a lot like you, make it your new goal to improve this invaluable proficiency.
As career expert and principal Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker explains, “People remember how we make them feel. Public speaking helps listeners to uncover new ideas, affirm core beliefs, and inspire them to act. It’s a way to quickly build trust and credibility with large audiences.”
If you’re ready to conquer this beast once-and-for-all, consider these tactical, effective strategies for reminding yourself of the true badass you are — no matter who sits before you:
Research and know your audience
Sure, if you’re presenting to your marketing team and you know everyone there by name, you likely don’t have to do too much legwork to understand your audience. Even so, take ten minutes before it’s your turn to stand up and present, and really think about what they may be thinking. What’s important to them? What will inspire them? What numbers will mean the most?
Whittaker-Walker says the more you can come prepared and understand who you are trying to appeal to, the more confident you will be when delivering whatever message you have to share. For those big ‘ol speaking engagements in front of the company, it’s even more important to set aside some peace-and-quiet to be impactful.
“Find out as much as you can about who you will be speaking to. This will help you to tailor your message, tone, and delivery to the needs of your listeners,” she explains.
Think about storytelling — over preaching
What many people struggle with when it comes to public speaking is conveying their points adequate. When nerves get the best of us, we can drag out information, show our frustrations and thus, lose the interest of those who are meant to be listening — and learning — from us.
That’s why Whittaker-Walker urges crafting the fine art of storytelling. Instead of just spouting out information, creating context and verbally describing to the point where a mental image is easy to manifest will keep everyone engaged.
“Stories clarify examples and help listeners make connections between themselves and the content you’re delivering,” she continues. “Practice sharing short and meaningful stories about yourself and your work and integrate them into your speaking engagements.”
Create an outline if you need to
Not everyone reacts well when put on the spot — especially if you’re already a bit angsty about the whole public speaking thin in the first place. When you can plan ahead and think strategically, Whittaker-Walker suggests turning back to those skills you learned from school by creating an outline.
Start by identifying three key points you want to convey that are easy for you to remember. Then, come up with an example or a story to illustrate each.
“Outlines are usually easier to remember than scripts and they will help you to stay on message. If you choose three points that are easy to recall, it will help you to remember your content and your audience to remember you and your talk,” she notes.
Practice the pause
When you’re nervous around someone you like, do you tend to, um, word vomit everywhere? We all do it — but it’s something that can also happen in professional settings. One way to calm your heart and control your breathing is to ‘pause’ before answering a question, before moving to the next section of your speech, or as the slideshow presentation changes.
As long as it isn’t more than a couple of seconds, no one will notice, since it’s a natural ebb-and-flow in conversation, and it gives you the opportunity to center, focus and calm yourself. Then, you can jump right back in without messing up any part of the speech!
You already know this but in case you need the nudge: avoiding your problems won’t make them go away. For those who are fearful of public speaking, staying out of the limelight is a safe solution.
However, this doesn’t put you out of your comfort zone or tackle the root of your issues. Whether you practice in front of friends, your partner or mentors, the more you — ahem — speak up, the better your self-esteem will improve.