Many professionals will go to great lengths to avoid it. Careers can be cut short by it. Practically everybody — from senior managers to entry-level employees — sweats over it.
It may make you jittery too. In fact, according to The Book of Lists, public speaking is among America’s most feared pursuits.
That’s why the findings of a poll conducted by the National Speakers Association on overcoming the fear of public speaking are invaluable for anyone who finds their nerves frayed by a pending public speaking engagement.
Following are the National Speakers Association’s top 10 strategies for overcoming the fear of public speaking:
- Accept the fear and make it work for you — Most people cannot see or sense a speaker’s nervousness, so be sure not to mention it, which will only draw attention to the fact that you’re not totally calm, cool and confident. Instead, use your nervousness — which is really just an adrenaline rush — to your advantage. Harness your nervous energy and turn it into enthusiasm.
- Arrive to the speech location early — If your presentation requires a microphone, overhead projector or any other technical equipment, make sure you arrive at the venue early enough to test it before the audience arrives. You should also make yourself comfortable with the room. Canvass the stage and check out the vantage point from the audience seating area. Getting familiar with the room will help put you at ease.
- Do deep breathing exercises — This is the old standby for any tense situation and professional speakers swear by its effectiveness. Take a deep breath, hold it for three or four seconds and exhale. Repeat four or five times. You’ll feel remarkably more at ease.
- Speak on something you are passionate about — A passion for your subject will help to dissipate your nerves in the moments before you speak. The audience will sense your passion and focus on your message — not your mistakes.
- Speak as often as possible — Nothing kills a case of the nerves like experience. The more you speak and the more you stand in front of an audience, the more comfortable you’ll be.
- Know your topic and material — Being unfamiliar with your topic and material is a sure-fire way to pump up your level of nervousness. People unfamiliar with their material also tend to memorize the text of their speech, which can lead to catastrophe if your stage fight is great enough to impact your memory.
- Mingle with the audience before the speech — If it’s possible, try to meet people in the audience before you speak. A simple chat with a few people in the audience will increase your familiarity with the audience and improve your comfort level.
- Know your audience — Members of the National Speakers Association swear by the value of doing your homework. Professional speakers make a substantial effort to research the company or organization hosting their speech. Knowing the sensitivities of your audience will allow you to hit their hot buttons and avoid failed attempts at humor.
- Forget yourself and focus on the audience — You’re speaking because you have valuable information to share. Recognize that your true goal is to help the audience and make them understand your message.
- Prepare and rehearse — Nothing beats practicing for a speech. The more you practice, the better you will do. Try practicing in front of family and friends or colleagues. If that isn’t possible, stand in front of a mirror and read your speech aloud. This will also put you in tune with your natural hand gestures and facial expressions.
The National Speakers Association offers a variety of tools and resources for people who want to learn more about professional speaking. Log on to www.nsaspeaker.org to find out more about NSA meetings, chapter meetings open to the public, Professional Speaker magazine and more.
The National Speakers Association (NSA) is the leading organization for experts who speak professionally. NSA's 4,000 members include experts in a variety of industries and disciplines, who reach audiences as trainers, educators, humorists, motivators, consultants, authors and more. Since 1973, NSA has provided resources and education designed to advance the skills, integrity and value of its members and speaking profession. Visit NSA's Web site at www.nsaspeaker.org. NSA: The Voice of the Speaking Profession.