Public speaking is one of the scariest things a person can do. In one study they found that people put the fear of public speaking above the fear of death!
That might be a little bit exaggerated, but still we can’t deny the fact that public speaking is one heck of an experience that can make your heart race very fast.
While I’ve done many speeches (and still doing), I don’t consider myself the best public speaker. I’m still practicing as I really consider public speaking an important skill and also one of the best ways to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. (Read: The Truth About Uncomfortable Emotions)
No matter how many speeches I give in the future, I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first public speech. From the shy kid who couldn’t muster up the courage to ask a question in a small class to a person who stands up in front of a crowd and speak to them. I never thought I was able to do that.
The lessons you’ll find in this article will help you whether you want to improve your presentation skills or whether you’re looking for some insights about facing fears and growing.
And this is not only about public speaking, it’s about facing fears and forcing yourself to be in uncomfortable situations in order to grow and improve. This can be applied to anything from building your self-confidence to chasing your own dreams.
Let’s get right into it.
1. There’s no such thing as being ready. (Procrastinating before it).
One of the things that can stop you from doing that first speech is thinking that you’re not ready yet.
And it has two forms:
- Thinking that you should be confident and not afraid in order to get on the stage and do it.
- Preparing your speech and thinking that it’s not good enough yet (there will always be something to add).
And in both cases it’s just your fears trying to take a rational form to stop you from giving your speech or presentation.
In other words, those are just excuses that your mind came up with in order to avoid facing the possibilities of embarrassment and rejection.
The problem is that sometimes we do believe these excuses and wait until we become ready.
But the fact of the matter is that there’s no such thing as being ready.
What does being ready mean in the first place?!
It’s just like “tomorrow” or “someday”. Words that we use to procrastinate on the things that we’re afraid of doing, not grasping the fact that those things are going to help us grow, improve and result in long term satisfaction, pride and high self-esteem.
If you think that you lack experience then it’s impossible to gain that experience unless you actually start taking action and practicing.
Stop waiting to be ready, because you’ll never will.
I have a vivid memory for this, when one of the speakers with me said that she wasn’t ready, she would rather do it in the future when she’s ready.
And I remember that I thought for a while and said to her “there must be a ‘first time’” or something like that. I realized at that moment that there’s nothing such as being ready, because it’s our first time. And if we didn’t do it now, in the future it’s also going to be our first time, and we’ll never be ready.
(Note: my friend who thought that she wasn’t ready actually ended up doing great job).
2. Fear will always be there
You’re going to be afraid. In fact, you’re going to be terrified!
Just before you get on the stage, or during the first minutes of your speech, you’re going to be afraid, especially that it’s your first time.
And that’s totally normal. Fear or a little anxiety before your presentation is totally OK. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to screw up.
You can be afraid and actually do a good job (as we’re going to see). And this fear will never go away unless you face it and push through it.
In the article The Peak: Overcome fear, Urges and Negative Emotions I said that fear will reach a peak at some point, after that it will start fading away and becoming less intense.
The more you reach that peak and let fear fade away after it, the less intense fear is going to be the next time, until it totally goes away.
So, fear is OK as long as you don’t run away from it.
I used to be very afraid before my presentations. However, I didn’t run away from that fear, I felt it and acted despite of it.
Right now, after doing many public speeches, I still get nervous a little bit before my speeches, but generally I’m more relaxed.
I remember that during my first speeches I used to shake, and I couldn’t even stand on one place because my legs were shaking. Now, I can move all around the stage if I want to, or I can just stay in one place.
The point is that fear will always be there. The fear will go away when you face it. Don’t let it stop you from doing what you know you need to do.
Do it even if your legs are shaking, get feedback and do it again until you’re comfortable.
3. Most people can’t really tell how afraid and nervous you are
Here comes the interesting part.
We’re our own worst critics, and we tend to play scenarios in our head that don’t really exist.
Remember when I told you that I couldn’t stay on one place because my legs were shaking?
Actually people loved my performance. And they were even asking me how could I be so calm and confident!
In the inside I was really anxious and I was shaking, but most people couldn’t tell.
People will see only what you show them. Don’t freak out and think that people can see through you, most of them can’t.
I explained this in details in the article Self-confidence and the Illusion of Transparency.
To sum it up, there was a study where people gave a presentation, and after that they were told
to rate themselves, one of the metrics was how anxious they were.
On the other hand, the audience was asked to do the same.
And the results were shocking, the audience’s rate was much higher.
Meaning that if the speaker gave himself 4 out of 10, the audience rate could be 6 or even 7.
And I’ve personally experienced that. But thankfully I was able to stay calm and control my body language, which resulted in actually making me more confident as time went by, and also giving that impression to the audience.
The positive feedback I received made me go even further and become more relaxed and calm.
The bottom line is that people can’t read minds, and you’re not an open book.
Even if you’re really scared, most people can’t tell as long as you don’t show that. And the positive feedback you’ll receive is going to give you more self-confidence.
At the end of this article you’re going to find some tips that will help you appear calmer. Stick to
them even if you’re afraid and you’ll do a good job.
4. There’s no better feeling than that you get when you’re done
One of the best feelings in the world is facing your fear, looking at it in the eye and then letting your fist draw a black circle right there.
Facing your fears is one of the best things that you can do to build up your self-confidence and character.
Regardless of the results, if you were able to stand up in front of a crowd of people and speak to them, you’re among the bravest people out there.
Public speaking is a dreaded thing, many people would rather die than do a public speech.
I don’t care if you were able to engage the audience or not, just the fact that you’ve faced your fears and stood up there is amazing.
Sure you need to learn how to engage the audience and stuffs, but right now I’m talking about the character. I’m taking about facing your fears and consciously trying to be better.
You’re going to feel great because you’re putting yourself on the line. You’re going to feel great when you finally master this skill.
After all, self-esteem comes from doing uncomfortable things like facing your fears. And if you consider doing public speeches self-confidence, your self-confidence is going to skyrocket after you do it.
Few helpful tips to remember during your next public speech
Now, let me give you few tips that will make you a better speaker.
- Watch great speakers: you can learn a lot from them. The way they move, the way they engage the audience and so on. People like Tony Robbins or just local speakers that you admire.
- Watch TED talks: you’ll have an idea of how a good speech looks like. Try to focus on the way they organize the points and how they present it.
- Ask the audience a question: by doing that you’ll have their attention, they’ll interact with you and you’ll feel more relaxed. Aim for “yes or no” questions and ask them to raise their hands.
- You can’t make eye contact with the floor: it translates nervousness and lack of self-confidence. Don’t look down to the floor, you’re not talking to the ants! Keep your head up and look at the people you’re talking to.
- Choose one person at a time: make eye contact with that person like you’re talking to him/her individually. If the audience is huge divide them into zones and choose few people in each zone.
- Talk to people, not at them: make it about them and make sure they understand you and get benefited as a result of listening to you. Don’t talk like you’re speaking to chairs or walls, they’re humans!
- Learn to project your voice well: you’ll sound better, and people will easily understand you. And because you know that you sound better, you’ll feel better.
- Passion is the most important thing: if you want to follow only one tip from this list then let it be this one. A speaker without passion, energy and enthusiasm is just like a body without a soul!
- Practice: practice makes perfect. Challenge yourself and face your fear. Do as much speeches or presentations as possible. Get feedback and you’re going to be a great public speaker.
- Read this article: you’ll find tips from a guy whose his TED talk is one of the most viewed TED talks.