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How to Cope with Public Speaking Anxiety

Evan Goodman
Written by Evan Goodman

Most people tend to experience some fear before speaking in public. However, sometimes anxiety can overwhelm, making talking in front of a group of business colleagues or clients difficult. If you suffer from nerves, but need to deliver a speech, you can ease the nervous tension with these tips.

Preparation

The first step to reducing anxiety is to know the information you want to talk about ‘inside and out’. Not understanding your topic thoroughly causes confidence to decrease and often results in panic. You’re likely to worry about potential stumbling blocks, like not being able to answer questions from the audience.

Overall, you should learn what you will say by heart. It isn’t necessary to repeat every word; just know the main points and the order you will deliver them. Practice talking aloud so you can be sure you can pronounce all the words, especially the unusual ones. Record yourself speaking and note the speed at which you are talking and adjust accordingly.

Body language

Non-verbal communication is important when you speak to an audience. When your stance and gestures portray confidence, you come across as self-assured and authoritative. The way you present yourself will be seen by the audience and this primes them for the content you are about to deliver.

If you appear bored or your body language implies you are not fully engaged, it stands to reason that those looking and listening to you are going to pick up on this and disengage. Additionally, just knowing you look at ease will improve your state of mind.

The number one non-verbal cue that signals you’re open, friendly, and happy is a smile. So smile as you walk on stage or stand to talk in the boardroom (this obviously depends on the nature of your talk, but the intent is to set a tone.)

Greet the audience

Stand straight, rather than slouch, hold your head high and sweep the audience with your gaze as you say hello, without focusing on anyone. Use hand gestures when describing things as you speak, and keep them at waist level. You won’t be as nervous if you give your hands ‘something to do’ and you’ll appear and look more confident.

It is common for an audience to make a snap judgement of you and your speaking topic. Often, starting the speech with an anecdote or a question can negate this issue; I.e. you can ‘force’ the audience to focus their attention onto a witty anecdote instead of the  awkwardness you may be experiencing.

Be sure to let the audience know within the very first minutes what your proposition is or big idea is about. Depending on the nature of your topic, tell them, what your talking points are and provide a general overview of what they can expect. Getting the audience’s attention right from the start is a fundamental of public speaking. If you don’t engage them fast, it is likely you will ‘lose’ them for the whole speech.

Tone and pace

Nervous speakers talk with high, tense voices and don’t take adequate breaths to aid calm, so do the opposite, and your confidence and credibility will rise. Speak relatively slowly, with a lower-toned voice, and take deep breaths that fill your lungs. Deep breathing will assist with calm and reduce stress since it decreases ‘fight or flight’ responses.

Dress to impress

Obviously you want to impress your audience, hence what you wear has an impact. If your shirt is crumpled, your shoes don’t shine, or your suit isn’t a terrific fit, the audience may judge you negatively and this may impact on the way they listen to or engage with your message.

Wear clothes that make you feel ‘attractive and commanding’. As a result, you are more likely to convince yourself, as well as your audience, that you know what you’re talking about and are happy delivering your speech.

Speaking in public makes most people nervous, but it need not instil fear and panic. You can boost self-confidence and poise with effective body language and correct breathing to aid calmness, and by rehearsing your talk until you know it really well. Lastly, with everything going on it may be possible to forget one of the most important aspect of speaking – letting your personality come through. After all, they have come to hear and see you!

“The opinions expressed by BizWitty Contributors are their own, not those of BizCover and should not be relied upon in place of appropriate professional advice. Please read our full disclaimer."

About the author

Evan Goodman

Evan Goodman

Over the past 30 years, Evan Goodman | Business Coach has founded numerous ‘start-ups’, built them into successful businesses and gone on to sell them. He has experienced and overcome most of the common challenges faced by business owners and leaders and understands the pressure and stresses that running a business can cause.

He also recognises the value and importance of getting sound advice and support when faced by these common challenges and of being prepared to openly discuss issues with a coach or mentor.

Since building up his last business into a national company, and selling it in 2009, Evan focusses on coaching SME business owners on how to become business leaders. He has a Masters of Business Coaching degree UOW; creating a unique blend of experience, expertise and coaching best practice for his clients.

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