THE BLOG

Lift the Curtain on Your Fear of Public Speaking

23/12/2013 10:18 | Updated 19 February 2014

Just thinking about giving a presentation to a group of strangers, friends or work colleagues can make our palms sweat and our heart race as the nerves kick in.

Let's face it; public speaking can be daunting, yet it is an essential skill to conquer if we want to progress in our careers.

Whenever we deliver a presentation to a small or large group of people there will be objectives to meet. This might be to convey information and share our expertise, change the way someone behaves, or alter perceptions.

If we fail to do this confidently our audience will not be engaged or respond in the way we want them to. Unfortunately, the more we worry about being nervous, the more anxious we become before and during our presentation.

Standing in front of people is like being on stage.

Like actors we are giving a performance and have an audience in front of us critiquing our every word and movement. People are judging us even before we have opened our mouths.

This link with the acting world means we can learn from performers to ensure stage fright does not scupper our efforts to be a good communicator in a business or social environment.

Actors train for years to use their body and voice effectively. They are aware of their body language, and their voice tone and articulation. They also breathe differently to calm their nerves and have mastered memory techniques to banish fears that they will fluff their lines. You do not see an actor go on stage holding their script. They will have rehearsed, but they also trust their knowledge of their subject.

If we are asked to present at work it is usually because we are an expert in what we do. Unfortunately, if we rely too heavily on notes or tools such as PowerPoint or are not aware of our voice and body during our presentation, we will fail to connect with our audience.

Here are some top tips from the acting world for giving an engaging and powerful presentation:

  • Breathe from your diaphragm to give you more breath on the presenting stage and avoid the shallow-breathing panic you can feel when nervous. If you don't know where your diaphragm is, put your thumb on your last rib and place your hands on the bottom of your stomach. If you are breathing correctly your shoulders will not move up and down.
  • Warm up your mouth and jaw as you would any other part of your body before activity. Pretend you are chewing a toffee or recite a tongue twister.
  • When rehearsing a presentation, experiment with volume and pitch to make your voice as appealing as possible but still keeping the tone natural. Good presenters can vary their speech depending on whether they are presenting in a relatively intimate space, such as during an internal meeting, or speaking to a big group in a large room. Think about pausing during your presentation. This can be powerful after making an important point or if your audience is laughing (with you!).
  • Don't rely too much on notes or PowerPoint as this can sap the energy out of your presentation and bore your audience. If you rely too much on PowerPoint you become a film projectionist rather than a presenter. Remember you are talking about something you know about so relax - trust your knowledge of your subject and your preparation. Use slides as an aid only.
  • Walk into the room or onto a stage with confidence. You can look confident even if you do not feel it by thinking about your posture and eye-line. Avoid talking to just one person and use the whole room, returning their eye-line to a central spot at regular intervals
  • Don't be afraid to move during your presentation. Try speaking from different points on the stage to keep your audience interested
  • Think about the questions and answers session. This is when things can go wrong but it is also an opportunity to bring in important information that you may have missed out during your presentation. During your preparation think about the difficult questions your audience might ask so they do not come as a shock, and you answer them confidently. What is the worst question you could be asked and how will you respond if it does come up?

Get these things right and people will enjoy listening to you rather than feeling embarrassed for you as you struggle to present. You never know ... you might even enjoy the whole experience.