This Is the Only Way to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking (and It's Definitely Worth It)
A speech coach shares crucial tips for learning how to address a crowd without fear.
It may sound impossible, but with the right preparation you can—and will!—deliver that speech (or toast or announcement or report or presentation) like you were born for the job. Public speaking is tough for many people—even those who seem to do it with ease—which makes it an especially valuable skill to master (or at least be sufficient in). And you can't avoid it forever; the only way around it is through it. Professional speech coach Christine K. Jahnke, author of The Well-Spoken Woman ($19; amazon.com), names the six best ways to beat your fear of public speaking.
Winging it isn't really an option (sorry!). "People underestimate how much work it takes to prepare. The speakers who make it look effortless are the ones who've spent hours getting ready," Jahnke says. "Schedule ample time for writing and rewriting your speech and practicing it aloud, whether on video, a voice recording, or in front of the mirror. (You won't know if your speech works until you hear it out loud.) You're better off doing shorter sessions every day over a longer period than cramming everything in a couple of days before. I know this sounds like a lot, but for an important speech, I believe every minute you speak requires an hour of preparation."
Take a look at the room or venue where you'll be speaking as early as you can. "You don't want to be seeing the setup for the first time when you speak," Jahnke says. "Is there a mic, and do you know how to work it? Behind the lectern, is there a place where you can stash water? How close is the audience? Does anyone speak before you? Knowing these answers makes a big difference."
"Envision yourself in front of the audience. Look around the room, noticing how everything is in place because you arrived early to set up. Think about how good you feel in your outfit. Take a deep breath and exhale. Practice the opening aloud. Think through your main points and a funny story that gets a chuckle. Smile to acknowledge the audience's reaction. Practice the visualization again, this time from the perspective of the audience. Watch yourself calmly and confidently approach the lectern. Take in the smile on your face and laugh at the humor in the opener. Nod in agreement at key points. Give yourself a hand. This exercise can be really powerful."
"Amy Cuddy's now famous TED talk on power posing explained that movements that make you bigger—think of a runner winning a race with her chin lifted and arms in a big V, or Wonder Woman, with her hands on her hips—raise the testosterone level in your body and reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol. I worked with a woman who would make sure she got on the elevator alone before speaking so she could do her power poses. If it's tricky to find a private place, there's always the bathroom. And then you can do a final mirror check of hair, teeth, buttons, and zippers."
Logging hours is (unfortunately) the only way you'll come to conquer those initial public speaking fears. "The more you do it, the better you'll get," Jahnke says. "Be the person at the baby shower who stands up and toasts the mom-to-be. I guarantee she'll remember the gesture far more than any gifts she receives."
You don't have to slog through your speech or presentation prep alone—and sometimes practicing with someone you know is actually harder than prepping with an objective person. Look into resources like Toastmasters or Varsity Tutors to help you pinpoint areas of improvement and practice with pros. "Toastmasters is still alive and well," offers Jahnke. "This worldwide network of public-speaking clubs is full of people who want to improve their skills."