5 tips to combat the fear of public speaking

If you are like me (or for that matter roughly half the people in the world), one of the most terrifying things you have had to do is get up on stage and give a speech (the fear is even worse than riding the craziest roller coaster at an amusement park). So I wanted to dedicate a post to public speaking, a topic that is dear to my heart. Though 90% of my work is in engineering which involves working on a computer all day, occasionally I need to present at conferences or teach training classes.

Even though I am well-versed and more knowledgeable on the subject matter than most people in the field, being the shy and quiet person that I am, I have experienced first hand the paralyzing fear and extreme nervousness before, no, make that almost a week before I was scheduled to give my half hour speech. Half an hour is not a lot of time, right? That’s the length of one TV sitcom episode. But just the mere thought of getting up there in front of people and talking used to make me break out in cold sweat, until slowly, each time got a bit easier than the last.

So yesterday I gave my 630th presentation, to a crowd of about 100 and I rocked it!

Here are a few tips that help me tremendously to prepare and deliver my talk without being tongue-tied or fainting on stage. I hope they will help you too.

1. Think of making a presentation as having a conversation – We have conversations everyday. With our friends, our family, our co-workers. Think of making a presentation as having a conversation with your audience, except that it is not a one on one conversation, but with everyone at the same time.

2. Prepare well but speak intuitively – If you know really well the topic you’re presenting, don’t try to follow the script or the slides too rigidly. Let the words flow and don’t worry too much about grammar or structure.

3. Don’t worry about making a compelling speech – There are very few people in the world that can captivate an audience and make them hold on to their every word. If you start to worry in the middle of a talk that you are not connecting with your audience, it’s only going to make you more nervous. Once you get comfortable speaking in front of people, making a compelling speech will slowly follow. Your task is to get through the presentation and if you speak loudly and clearly, your audience will surely pay attention to what you are saying.

4. Try to make it interactive – This is actually harder than it sounds. Your audience is equally nervous about participating, so 9 times out of 10 when you pose a question, you are greeted by nervous silence. Pause 3 seconds for someone to blurt out a comment, then answer your own question. As you get comfortable with asking questions, getting your audience to participate will come naturally.

5. Always reward yourself after a talk – I always reward myself after my presentation, just to have gotten through it. Be it those cute sandals I must own, or a giant size snickers ice-cream bar, it is important to reward yourself on your accomplishment. You have gotten one step closer to desensitizing yourself to the fear of public speaking.

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