There’s a reason most of us have nightmares about speaking in public. It’s bloody terrifying. As one of the world’s most common phobias (75 per cent of people suffer from the fear according to NBC), it’s become something most of us avoid like Ebola; until we absolutely have to. Best man speeches, interview pitches, work presentations and toasts are all inevitable. Therefore, rather than sleepless nights, it makes sense to adopt a few simple tips and tricks from the men and women who do it best.
Go For It
“The only way to get over a fear of public speaking is by speaking in public,” says performance expert Jeremy Stockwell, who was a judge on the BBC show The Speaker. “The longer we wait to do something, the more intense fear becomes.” If there’s a big speech on the horizon, bite the bullet with a test run before the main event. Toastmasters is a club with around 16,000 locations in 142 countries where members can practice their lines among others in the same situation so that the real deal won’t be quite as scary.
Psyche Yourself In
Don’t psyche yourself out before you even get up on stage – you never know, it might be your secret skill. And if not, most people in the room are already impressed you’ve made it up there. “We all have this preconceived notion about what we can and can’t do,” says public speaking guru Judith Humphrey. “People will say ‘oh I’m terrible at it’ and when I ask how many speeches they’ve given, they’d say ‘none’.”
Reduce Your Arousal
‘Physiological arousal’ sounds like something that happens when you picture everyone naked to calm your nerves. In fact, it’s a way to stop the body from entering ‘fight or flight mode’. “Learning to calm yourself physiologically by controlling your heart rate and practising slow breathing will make you a much better public speaker as the body won’t be in panic stations,” says psychologist Dr Alice Boyes. “Practice slow breathing while also practising your speech to see your heart rate slow down and in turn, calm yourself.”
Practise Makes Perfect
As a senior lecturer at one of the world’s top business schools, IESE, Conor Neill knows a thing or two about public speaking and recommends a repetitive approach in the run-up to the big event. “There are so many tips out there, but none help quite like practising,” he says. “No tool is as powerful in allowing you to practice than the webcam. Make it a habit to switch on the webcam for three minutes each day and practice talking in the way you’d speak to a crowd.”
Eyes On The Prize
It may sound easier said than done, but focussing intensely on what you are saying and the importance of it will keep you connected not only to your ideas but also to your audience, says Humphrey. “In staying focused, you won’t be thrown off track by the man at the back checking his iPhone or the people nattering to your left. Instead, you’ll connect with the people who want to connect with you, and strengthen your delivery to make you sound confident, even if inside you’re shaking like a leaf.”