If you’ve been asked to give a speech at work, you might start to feel anxious and try to find ways to dodge the request. Rest assured these feelings are normal. Lots of people have a fear of public speaking. Roughly 5.3 million Americans have a social phobia and about 74% have speech anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
However, it will be important for you to take steps toward tackling your fear – your career and finances could depend on it. In some cases, not developing your public speaking skills could hurt your chances for career advancement. That means you could possibly be walking away from a raise and promotion.
“I believe there are thousands of presentations, with superb content that would benefit specific audiences, yet have never been presented. They’ve never been delivered because of the fear of public speaking. This is unfortunate. Their great information is never disseminated and a person’s career is often held back because of this fear,” said public speaking coach Fred E. Miller in No Sweat Public Speaking!
Here are a few tips for overcoming your fear.
1. Don’t focus on your shortcomings
Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, focus on the value you bring to your employer. Others can benefit from your knowledge and expertise. You’ll never know if the information you possess could help advance your company unless you share.
“[The fear of public speaking] keeps us from speaking up in meetings even when we have ideas and progress to share. It keeps us from networking and building new relationships beneficial to us and others. And it keeps us from seeing ourselves as able to teach, train, influence and motivate in our work environment, in court, and within our professional network. Instead, it pigeonholes us into mediocrity,” said public speaking expert Merri Bame.
2. Study your topic
The better you know your topic, the less likely you’ll be overcome with nerves. Go over your notes before your speech so you can be ready for any question that comes your way. Being prepared will help you feel more confident.
Go over what you have to say with a friend. If this isn’t possible, stand in front of a mirror at home and go through your presentation. Write down questions you anticipate and practice answering them in detail. Run through your presentation until you feel comfortable.
“Even if you can improv with the best of them, do a complete run-through in advance, and a written key-points list of your talk. I like to do a verbal run-through in the tub the day before (the tub is my second office, really) and I do a key points list the morning of the event,” said author and speaker Danielle LaPorte.
4. Visualize a successful outcome
Take a moment to create a mental image of yourself giving a dynamic speech. Right before you talk, recall this image to give you the confidence boost you need. Visualization can have a great impact on the outcome. The more you see yourself as a success, the more likely you are to believe it.
5. Dress the part
If you look good, you will feel good. Dress well and pay attention to grooming. The way you present yourself sends a powerful message. Even if you don’t feel confident, dress and act confidently until your emotions catch up.
6. Be present
Being fully present and aware of your body during the speech will help you stay focused on methods that may help you calm your nerves. Focus on your breathing, and relax your muscles as soon as you feel yourself breathing quicker or getting tense. Remaining aware of your body can help you relax.
7. Don’t rush
Rushing through your presentation will make you more nervous. You’ll have rapid breathing and a fast heartbeat. Before you know it, you’ll be a sweaty, nervous wreck. Speak slowly and take your time. As you ease into your presentation, you will start to relax into your speech and become more confident in what you have to say.
“Rushing through a talk requires that you talk fast. Talking fast interferes with your breathing. Instead of breathing comfortably, you breathe in a short, shallow manner, or you might even hold your breath. This gives you the sensation of running out of air and being unable to breathe, a common fear in this situation, and one that greatly increases fear of public speaking,” said psychologist Dave Carbonell.
8. Get formal training
Another option to consider is signing up for training. A public speaking coach can give you tips for making your presentation more polished and show you how to stay calm. You may also want to think about joining a support group for people who have difficulty with public speaking.