A good friend of mine recently reached out because she is “freaking out” about a public speaking presentation she has to give this week. She asked for some advice knowing that I do speaking engagements for a living. It got me thinking.
There’s no question that the fear of public speaking is a major fear. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “I saw a thing in a study that said speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing. Number two was death. Death is number two?! This means to the average person that if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy!”
All kidding aside, public speaking definitely takes a lot of courage. I’ve learned that courage is not about being fearless. It’s about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. That’s how you build confidence. I’ve done over 50 public speaking engagements in the recent past and I still get nervous each time before I present. My audience wouldn’t necessarily know it, but I do. But, I definitely have gotten less nervous over time as my confidence builds and I’ve developed techniques to minimize the “pre-presentation nerves,” which I’m sharing here.
1) Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
Rehearsing my presentation is something I always dread doing because it is a tedious exercise, can seem boring, and can be draining, but it is unbelievably valuable. I always make myself do it and it always pays off.
For one thing, you need as many “pre-game” confidence boosters as possible. Knowing your content well helps increase your confidence from the get-go.
Second, if you just jot down an outline or key points and plan to “wing it” on “game day,” you leave way too much to chance.
The power of rehearsing is that you get to hear out loud how the presentation flows (or more importantly, how it does not flow), including how to transition between one point to the next. You get the opportunity to decide in advance what to cut, add, or change so that it’s all smooth during your live presentation. Every time I rehearse a presentation aloud for the first time, I identify content or a key transition that is missing or needs to be finessed and I get the chance to fix it on the front end, which can make the difference between a mediocre presentation and a strong one.
Third, rehearsing your presentation allows you to time it accurately so that you can avoid running out of time and having to rush through your content or cut things out at the end on the fly, or ending too early.
So do not let “game day” be the first time that you talk through the entire presentation from beginning to end.
2) Develop Your “Inner Cheerleader” to Conquer Your “Inner Critic”
The moments just before your presentation begins are typically the most nerve-wracking. This is when your anxiety can peak. This is when your “Inner Critic” may be the loudest reminding you of your fears of looking like a fool, messing up, or somehow tanking the presentation.
Work on developing a powerful quick routine that you can do shortly before your presentation begins to get you in the right state of mind, soothe your nerves and pump yourself up.
For example, this may sound silly, but before each of my presentations, I go into the restroom a few minutes before it begins and borrowing from Amy Cuddy, I strike a “power pose.” She’s explained that adopting expansive poses increases people’s feelings of power and confidence. I close my eyes and breathe deeply to calm my nerves and I do a quick mini-visualization of me leading a successful presentation. I’ll stare at myself in the mirror and tell myself internally how much value I have to offer and how much the audience can benefit from what I have to share. And that I am worthy and valuable no matter what happens.
This routine will be different for everyone because it will depend on what soothes your nerves and boots your confidence, but it’s important to create something that works for you. It’s key to develop your “inner cheerleader” to conquer your “inner critic.”
3) Focus on the Fans, not the “Haters”
This tip is something I have only recently begun implementing, which has been a game-changer for me.
Typically, what we fear with public speaking is being judged and rejected. I used to try to please everyone in the audience, but that is not possible. I’ve learned that no matter what, audience members will judge you and you cannot please everyone. That is not the goal. You have to accept that you will be judged and let go of caring so much about it. As the popular hip-hop phrase so eloquently puts it, “haters gonna hate.” And that’s okay. Nevertheless, I realize that this is much easier said than done.
Until recently, I had developed a bad habit of being in the middle of a presentation and mentally fixating on the one or two individuals in the audience who seemed the most skeptical, who had closed body language, or otherwise seemed unengaged and I would try to win them over. Because I was mentally focused on them, I would doubt myself or feel self-conscious throughout the presentation fearing that what I was saying was not “good enough.” I never consciously realized I was doing this until I thought about it. This is not a good approach! You cannot please everyone and the goal is not to win everyone over. On top of it, ironically, I’ve learned that the people who I thought least liked a presentation were sometimes the ones who liked it the most, but didn’t show it. So my fears were unfounded anyway.
As a result, I have changed my approach. Now I remind myself that there are people in the audience who benefit from what I share and genuinely appreciate it and I focus exclusively on making sure that my best self shows up for them. Even if I don’t know who they are in the audience, this has allowed me to mentally anchor on those I am helping and turn my attention away from thinking about any “negative Nellys” in the room.
The other thing that helps is to remember that it takes a ton of courage to speak publicly and by doing so, you are the one actually putting yourself out there – in the “arena.” Those who are judging you are not in the arena or doing the brave thing of putting themselves out there to help and serve others, so that puts things in perspective.
My confidence has exploded as a result of these practices and I hope they help you too!