Overcoming a fear of public speaking

03Jun13_Anderson_killer-presentation

For many people presentations are a central part of their working day, so it’s surprising to learn that public speaking remains a daunting task for many.

Studies suggest that 3 out of 4 individuals, or 75% of all people suffer from a fear of public speaking, making it the number one fear among society’s population.

However these skills are often called upon, whether it’s in a large-scale conference situation, pitching to potential clients or presenting to colleagues, meaning you owe it to yourself to develop a strategy to manage your nerves and concentrate on delivering an engaging presentation.

If like most people public speaking or presenting is one of your major fears, there is no need to allow this to control your life.

We’ve outlined our top tips for overcoming any anxieties over public speaking, designed to help you focus on your audience’s needs rather than your own fears.

Understand your audience’s needs

By understanding your audience and their needs ahead of your presentation you can be more confident that you’ll be presenting them with useful material that will add value to them.

You can do this by defining who your target audience is, ask people representative of that audience what they would like to hear, and if possible consider contacting participants ahead of your talk and asking them a few questions about what they’re expecting.

Learn your material

Preparation is key when producing your presentation material. Standing up in front of an audience to present a topic you are not well prepared for will do little to calm your nerves.

By understanding your material inside out and ensuring it is on target to meet your audience’s needs you’ll have more confidence in what you’re saying, which in turn will help to calm any anxieties.

Another important point to remember when working on your material is that you can’t cover everything you know in one presentation. Be selective in what you chose to talk about, highlighting just the most important information. You can always answer any in-depth questions at the end, or take down contact details of your audience to provide further information.

Encouraging audience participation and asking questions can also help you to deliver your information in a more conversational way.

Structure your presentation

When preparing a presentation many people make the mistake of memorising exactly what they intend to say, meaning the delivery can come across robotic and over-rehearsed.

By structuring your presentation more effectively and using cues to prompt your next point, your talk will come across as much more natural and personable.

Having a set of key phrases on cue cards or within your slides will help to trigger your memory as to what is coming up next. This approach means you can control any anxieties over forgetting your words and make the presentation run much more smoothly.

One of the most effective and simple ways to structure your presentation is to tell you audience what you’re going to say, say it, and then recap on what you’ve told them.

Practice makes perfect

Whilst you should avoid memorising your presentation word for word, you’ll want to ensure that you’re comfortable and confident in your delivery.

Familiarity with your topic and the basic structure of your slides will give you confidence, and practice will help you to deliver your talk naturally. By learning the order of your presentation instead of exactly what you’re going to say, you’ll avoid sounding like a robot and won’t risk being thrown off if you forget any of the word you rehearsed.

Calm yourself

Being nervous causes physical reactions due to the increase of adrenaline in your system. Using a few simple techniques can help counteract these anxieties and reduce nerves ahead of your presentation.

Practice deep breathing that will deliver oxygen to your brain and trick your body into thinking you’re calmer than you are. Adrenaline can also cause a dry mouth, which in turn leads to becoming tongue-tied. Keep a bottle of water with you to ensure you remain hydrate throughout your presentation.

Finally, speak more slowly than you would in a normal conversation, and leave longer pauses between sentences. This slower pace will help to calm you down and make it easier for your audience to follow what you’re saying.