Give Kick-Butt Public Talks—Even If You’re Terrified

Skill DevelopmentWorkplace Success
Simple tips for getting past fear, connecting with your audience, and having fun while you’re doing it.

Whether you are a salesperson, aspiring public speaker, or college student, chances are you will have to speak in front of a group. Are you afraid of speaking in front of people? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, a staggering 74% of adults suffer from glassophobia, or fear of public speaking. The question is are you willing to pass up career-building opportunities due to fear?

As a professional speaker, I speak in front of groups ranging from five people to a couple thousand. I’m a little bit of an odd ball being that I don’t suffer anxiety prior to large talks, and I attribute that fact to the tips shared below. More times that I can count, audience members ranging from private school teens to corporate CEOs have confided in me that they are terrified of speaking in public and have requested that I share a few tips. It’s important to note that most of my professional speaker friends, many actors and other entertainers report that they have at least some mild anxiety just prior to delivering a talk. So, if you are uncomfortable, you’re in very good company. The following tips will help you become more comfortable delivering public talks.

Know your material

This tip is easily the most important. You will be much more comfortable speaking on topics or presenting information that falls under your area of expertise. If you are presenting new information, allow yourself as much time as possible to familiarize yourself with the information. Last-minute cram sessions are not your friend when delivering talks. While being knowledgeable on your topic is key, you don’t have to know everything. Remember that you can offer to get back to the group via email or another medium to answer detailed questions that require additional research.

Dress the part

Make sure that you wear something that compliments your body type, but allows movement. If you are a woman who enjoys wearing makeup, apply your own or, if it is a really special occasion, consider hiring a makeup artist. If you feel attractive, you will not spend important energy worrying about how you are physically being perceived. I also suggest wearing comfortable shoes.

Empathize with your audience

When preparing and delivering your information, put yourself in the shoes of your audience members. How can you make your message or information hit home for them? If possible, speak to a couple audience members prior to crafting your talk in order to gain their perspective. Consider asking questions  during your presentation or creating a mini activity to help them connect with the information you’re providing. Just knowing that you kept them in mind when preparing your presentation will raise your comfort level. However, if you’re still a little unsure, I suggest mingling with your audience members prior to your presentation. Find two to three people and ask them what they are hoping to get out of your presentation. Ask them about challenges they are having around your topic. This way, you can ensure that you’re answering their questions and addressing their points of view in your talk.

Have a conversation

When you are preparing, I highly suggest not memorizing a speech because 1) audiences are becoming less receptive to canned speeches and 2) if you mess up, you will have a difficult time recovering your ‘last spot’ in a natural way. Instead, consider creating a basic outline of your talk with bullet points to ensure you hit salient points. If using slides, insert bullet points in the slides, and then have a conversation with your audience when filling in the details. Practice delivering your talk with the outline until it becomes natural.

Give it up

This is the secret sauce. Once you’ve prepared and done all that you can do, spend a couple minutes meditating or simply sitting in silence. Then, when finished, commit to simply being of service when presenting and give up any thoughts of being perfect, enchanting, etc. Just focus on being helpful and know that everything else is now out of your hands.