This is one of the most common fears around and it’s great that you want to do something about it. There are many ways to improve your ability to speak in public and the first step is to confront your fear. The important thing is to use any opportunity to speak that arises rather than avoid it, and start with small steps, such as offering a toast at dinner or asking a question at a meeting.
Here are some strategies to help you get started:
Enrolling in a public speaking group like Toastmasters can really help get the ball rolling. Check out the Toastmasters website to learn more and find your nearest location. The best thing about groups like this is that you’ll meet people who are in the same boat as you, who will understand and support you, as well as inspire you. Most importantly, there will be experienced public speakers on hand to guide and encourage you and give you constructive feedback.
When it comes to public speaking, preparation is key. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. You need to know your material inside out, but avoid falling into the trap of trying to remember everything you’re going to say word-for-word.
Visual aids such as PowerPoint slides can be useful and help to divert the audience’s focus away from you. I’m all for using visual aids but be careful not to lose your connection with the audience – the focus should still be on you. The ultimate goal of your preparation should be greater engagement with your audience.
Practise delivering your presentation in front of a mirror, practice with a friend who will give you honest feedback, and even go as far as recording yourself. You might be surprised to find that even though you feel incredibly nervous on the inside, your nerves are not nearly as visible as you think they are.
You actually need to practice acting confident – stick out your chest, put your shoulders back and stand tall. Just this small adjustment to your posture can make a world of difference to how you feel. The more you practice, the more you will improve and then the more confident you will feel.
Your fear of public speaking will not disappear overnight. It will take time but it’s important to set yourself small goals and celebrate your achievements and progress along the way. Every time you make a presentation, reflect on what you could have done better, but also recognise what you did well and what you improved upon.
Overcoming your fear of public speaking will help you in your career, enabling you to develop a vital employability skill that will help you on the road to professional success while also giving your confidence a massive boost – so it’s worth the effort. Public speaking is a skill that can be learned, and like any new skill it just takes practice and perseverance.
Jo Messer is a Career Development Specialist who has many years of experience in supporting and guiding students and graduates of some of Australia’s most respected universities, as well as mature-aged clients, across all facets of their career. She is a Professional Member of CDAA and an active member of NAGCAS. Whether you have a specific question about how to achieve your career goal or something more general, Jo is available to provide you with up-to-date advice.