Public speaking is more than just the ability to stand in front a crowd and talk about a topic. Itís the ability to energize the crowd and lead them. Those with a fear of public speaking, however, frequently avoid it, either consciously or subconsciously, leading them to have fewer opportunities for career advancement overall. Therefore, it is essential to overcome your fear of public speaking if you wish to advance in your career and portray the confidence that will bring your success both professionally and personally.
The first thing to remember is that speaking in public is not a stressful activity. It doesnít require that you compete in a marathon or undergo unpleasant testing at the doctorís. It is simply the act of standing up and speaking. What makes it stressful is the social context into which it is consistently put. Society teaches that public speaking is stressful, so individuals come to believe that it is. The important thing is that, just as others have overcome their fear of public speaking so to can you. You are more powerful than the societal expectation that public speaking is something to be feared. If another individual can conquer his fear of public speaking (and plenty have), so too can you.
Public speaking is not truly speaking in public. This might sound like a paradox, but public speaking is really the art of teaching. Whenever you stand up to make a presentation, whether it is a speech about proposed tax legislation or a dissertation about the water quality of a local reservoir, you are seeking to inform and persuade. Viewing yourself as a teacher rather than a public speaker can go a long way to easing your fear of public speaking. Youíll know that, when you stand in front of that crowd, you have a reason for being there and a goal you want to communicate. You can focus on energizing them to take action, just as the best teachers of your formative years did for you.
Practice is key. Practicing your speech beforehand is a great use of nervous energy. If you know your material well and practiced your delivery, it will build you confidence and help you in easing your nerves.
One of the greatest fears of public speakers is that of erring. Mess-ups happen, but what is important to remember is that they happen to everyone. Itís how you handle it that the audience will remember. For instance, Hugh Jackman won a Tony Award 2005 for his performance as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. During one night of the musical, however, things didnít go exactly as planned. During one production number, he was singing and dancing next to and on top of a piano when he collided with the microphone. Rather than letting the performance stop, he turned it into a humorous moment, saying to the crowd, ďI think they might have to call in the understudy,Ē before jumping right back into the song. The audience laughed, and the show went on.
What Jackmanís reaction to the unexpected and potentially embarrassing incident underscored, however, was that the audience wants to believe in you. They want you to succeed. If you err, as will happen on occasion, all you have to do is acknowledge the moment with a bit of humor, and everything will continue on a smooth path. The key to public speaking isnít to be perfect. Itís to let your audience know that, just like them, you are human.
Many people fear the unexpected, the ďbadĒ incident that will suddenly rear its head and humiliate them. The bottom line is, this isnít going to happen-regardless of how much you might believe it. Imagining that youíll throw up in front of the crowd or break down in tears midway through the speech is simply that, your imagination running away with you. It isnít going to happen. Envision going through the speech without a problem, and you probably will. Imagining the worst-case scenario merely sets you up for a lot of unnecessary anxiety.
Finally, itís important to remember that the majority of the people in any audience understand exactly how you feel and have tremendous respect for the fact that you are facing your public speaking fear. Remember that 75 percent of them are just like you. They actually respect you more for facing your fear.