Face your fear of public speaking

Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

For some, though, any alternative sounds better than public speaking. Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. And for many people, anxiety over public speaking engagements or simply speaking in front of people at work can be enough to make you wish for an alternate ending.

However, there’s no need for such drama when you can overcome your fear of public speaking. Countless books, workshops, videos and trainers offer help and solutions for improving public speaking skills. Gregg Ward, author, speaker, trainer, consultant, executive coach and president and CEO of Orlando-Ward & Associates, Inc., has more than 25 years of experience in public speaking and training. Here are his top tips for managing nerves and presenting.

1. Acceptance
Simply accept that you will be nervous. Everyone gets nervous before speaking and presenting. I’ve been doing this since the mid-1980s and I still get nervous. The trick is not to allow your nervousness take you over and disable you. How do you do that?

2. Breathe
It’s amazing how many people forget to breathe deeply when they get nervous. They take shallow breaths, which doesn’t clear out the carbon dioxide from your blood stream nor replace it with oxygen. 15 minutes before you go on, you should find a quiet place, sit down, close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. If you know how to meditate, do that. If you don’t know how to meditate, learn. I meditate for three minutes before every single speech, training class or presentation. It’s invaluable for calming me down.

3. Preparation and practice
Unless you’re a trained professional, you should never appear before an audience without a lot of preparation and practice. Walking onstage with a bullet point list of talking points isn’t good enough. You need to plan out your presentation, especially your opening and your closing, and you need to memorize them.

4. Walk through beforehand
Do a walk-through of the space and technology beforehand. If possible, get up on stage or in the presentation space when no one is around and get the “feel” of it. Practice your lines if you’re able; work with the slideshow, the remote. Pick out some spots (like exit signs or light fixtures) on the back and side walls of the room that you can look at during your actual presentation.

5. Familiar faces
Forget the old advice to “picture the audience naked” — that’s nonsense and it will distract you from your task at hand. Instead, find familiar faces, people that you know in the audience. They will have supportive looks on their faces; they want you to do well. You can focus on them and they will reassure you.

6. Be confident in what you know
Right before you go on, say to yourself, “I know what I know; I’m glad to be here to share what I know; and no matter what happens, I’ll be OK and I’ll get through this.”

7. Tell relevant stories that teach something
Storytelling is one of the most powerful and effective professional speaker’s tools. Human beings are wired to hear stories. If you tell good stories — that are relevant and teach your audience something — they will remember the story and the lesson forever. And you will be focused on the story while you tell it — your nerves will magically disappear!

8. Breathe some more
Once you get through your memorized opening; you’ll be in good shape. But if the nerves come back, take a deep breath; it’ll seem like an eternity to you when you do it; but your audience won’t notice it. And you’ll be amazed at how a deep breath will calm you down.

Ward’s advice focuses on preparation and confidence. When you do your homework and know your presentation materials, you give yourself the raw goods to present well. The rest is feeling comfortable and keeping in mind that your audience wants you to do well: Remember, everybody wants to attend or present a well-prepared speech over one that’s poorly done. With preparation and confidence, you can wow the crowd.