You are invited to speak, as you often (or not) are. Your rational self knows this is a big opportunity you cannot pass up, but as soon as you say yes your knees turn to running jelly. You imagine hundreds of people looking up to you, quite literally, looking forward to actively feeding from your wisdom and experience. You are nauseous. You start hoping the event will somehow get cancelled so you won’t have to make the less-than-heroic call of turning the invite down, and this feeling is your daily dose of rinse and repeat till D-day.
Public speaking is, according to statistics, one of the most common fears in the world. In fact, a joke goes that more people fear public speaking than they fear death. So much so that often the person reading the eulogy at a funeral would rather be the one in the coffin.
There are two challenges in mastering public speaking. The greatest challenge is conquering yourself, after which you need to conquer your content. The latter is a lot easier to do, but you will hardly ever demonstrate a mastery of your content if you are not in control of yourself, your body and your emotions.
How can you conquer yourself?
There are a couple of ways to conquer your fear of public speaking, but none is stronger or more effective than practicing. Every opportunity to speak is an opportunity to conquer that numbing fear you get when you speak in public. It sounds counter-intuitive, and it is, because from personal experience the last thing you want to do when you have a fear of public speaking is to speak in public!
Consider the possibility, however, that your fear might stem from an unhealthy level of self-judgment. The loud voice in your head telling you can’t do it and masking all possibility of success. While practicing, this will require the antidote of self-forgiveness. More than your usual dose. When you take up the podium, you will most likely forget your speech, but you will remember the shaking and the blushing, you will remember your anxiety to the last detail, and because self-criticism is perhaps both human’s greatest friend and enemy, it shall stay with you, eating at your progress and demeaning all self-improvement effort you have taken up until that moment.
Science has proven use of breathing as profoundly helpful in reducing nervousness. Take deep breaths and let the air fill your lungs. More than that, practice your speech while being hyper aware of your breathing patterns, so that it can be in sync with the rest of you when you deliver your speech.
Identify the manifestation of your fear
How does your nervousness manifest itself? Mine comes in form of a shaky voice that I can’t quite rid myself of. Some people blush, some speak faster, some sweat and others even black out. When you know what gives away your anxiety, then you can use focused tactics to remain or give the impression of remaining confident. You could write down your content if you are in a habit of blacking out or train yourself to speak slower.
Team-positive always wins. If you look back at your own life, you will probably find that your greatest achievements were made at the point you stayed most positive. The reality is, everyone is to an extent insecure about visibility. People are generally afraid of judgement and everyone is on a journey of self-improvement. Welcome your nervousness and let it remind you that the only reason it accompanies you is because you want to do well. Most importantly remember that your audience is rooting for you and thinks you are worth their time. Root for you too!
About The Author
Brenda Guchu is a fiery young activist zealous about writing, art, technology and women empowerment. She strongly believes in the visibility of women in taking up leadership roles and creation of platforms that grant women equal access to opportunities to excel. Brenda utilizes her spare time reading, and participating in conversations that challenge damaging stereotypes, both online and offline. She lives by the mantra, “to win the race, you have got to be in the race”