8 Top Tips to Beat Your Fear of Public Speaking

Whether it’s school, university or work, everyone has bad memories of a presentation gone wrong. You did your research, learned your topic and prepared a killer speech — but when the time came to share your findings, disaster struck: dry throat, clammy hands, uncontrollable nerves…

We’ve all been there. In fact, a survey conducted by YouGov found that the fear of public speaking (Glossophobia) is such a common phobia in the UK that it ranks second only to heights. This means more Brits are afraid of public speaking than they are of spiders, snakes or even small spaces. And with many careers relying on clear communication, Glossophobia could put jobs at risk.

A fear of public speaking isn’t something that needs to hold back your career. Human resource and L&D experts, DPG, have created a list of 8 simple tricks and techniques — as well as advice from their online facilitator, Gary Norris — to help you better cope with speaking in public:

1. Always be prepared

Knowing your material ahead of time is the easiest way to help calm the nerves when public speaking. Thoroughly prepare your speech, notes, slides or anything else you need to present. This will not only make it easier to stay on track and avoid losing your train of thought, but it will also better prepare you for any audience questions. 

“Even with the best will in the world, sometimes things go wrong”, says Norris. “Technology that was working when you tested it beforehand mysteriously fails, an audience member’s phone rings during your speech and sometimes we simply make mistakes.”

“My advice is to acknowledge these things as they happen — take a moment or two to get things back on track, explain the situation and smile confidently once everything’s under control. Most people will understand, plus, how the audience perceives you is often improved once they see that you are human and can confidently solve problems.”

2. Practice in front of friends

The best way to prepare for public speaking is to test out your presentation on someone you trust first. Whether it’s a friend, a close colleague or your significant other, running through your speech in an environment you feel safe in will ensure that you receive honest feedback.

The good thing about practicing in front of your friends or peers is that it doesn’t matter if you need gentle encouragement or a push to get you started, simply being around familiar faces will help keep you relaxed. Then, once all your initial butterflies are gone, you’ll get some really useful feedback that you won’t take to heart or mistake as criticisms.

3. Watch yourself speak

Once you’ve planned out everything you want to say, practice delivering your speech by recording yourself on a phone or webcam as if you were in front of an audience. This will help you identify any areas of your presentation that don’t flow smoothly or sound strange when they’re read aloud. 

It’ll also give you the opportunity to practice your gestures, facial expressions and the pace at which you’re speaking. Norris notes how, “Recording your performance allows you to rewatch your performance again and again. This allows you to concentrate fully on the recording, looking at what elements you want to keep in your presentation and what you want to change. Repeat as often as you need to in order to feel confident.”

4. Use visual aids

Using PowerPoint slides has often been criticised as unengaging and a lazy method when giving a presentation. That’s because people who suffer from stage fright often make the mistake of reading out what the audience can see for themselves — boring everyone in the process.

This is something Norris has seen time and time again: “Many presenters have lots of text on their slides because they haven’t memorised their lines. The result is that the audience has to work really hard to listen and read at the same time – which isn’t easy. It’s a sure-fire way to lose their attention – which often compounds a presenter’s feeling of being uncomfortable.

You can avoid falling into this trap by using slides as visual cues instead. Rather than overloading them with information and text, simplify each slide to an image or a statistic — something that helps to build upon the point you’re making. This means you can save all the interesting information for yourself to say out loud, which is far more engaging for your audience. 

“Try and present as if you’re telling a story. Say things like ‘let’s look at this slide for a moment’ and ‘I want to tell you something’ so that you move the audience’s attention to where you want it – this makes your audience focus on what you want them to.”

5. Focus on your material, not the audience

Speaking of audiences, it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself to gain your audience’s undivided attention. People get tired, hungry and have short attention spans — this is just a fact.

If you pay too much attention to your crowd, you’re likely to spot the odd yawn or someone checking their phone. This doesn’t mean they’re not interested in what you have to say, so don’t think it’s personal or you’ll only stress yourself out more. 

Instead, focus on your source material. Put your efforts into delivering what you have to say. You’ll be surprised by how much your audience takes away! 

6. Don’t be afraid of silence

For someone who suffers from a fear of public speaking, the thought of a moment of silence can feel like a worst-case scenario. It can be easy for a nervous speaker to lose their train of thought, making the time it takes to recover feel like an eternity.

The good news is that silences don’t need to be uncomfortable. Your audience will be taking in new information so they won’t notice pauses in the same way as you do. Plus, an intentional pause is a great way to express your points with dramatic effect. 

7. Engage with your audience 

For people who are scared of public speaking, a natural reaction is to simply keep your head down, pretend the crowd isn’t there and get through what you need to say. Instead, try making your presentation a two-way interaction with your audience, either by asking questions or by starting a discussion within the crowd members. 

Getting your audience involved is a brilliant way to help them better absorb and understand the information you’re trying to get across, as well as giving you precious time to get yourself prepared for the next segment of your presentation. 

8. Train yourself

The best way to improve your skills in something is to learn directly from the experts. Whether it’s attending a seminar or booking a trainer to provide in-house training, hiring a qualified human resource or learning and development trainer will let you work one-on-one with industry professionals. 

Nervousness when speaking in front of a crowd is a very normal reaction, even if it’s just in front of your peers. For a lot of people, these situations are unavoidable due to their working environment. Thankfully, like any fear, you can overcome a fear of public speaking. Try out our list of techniques so you’ll be fully prepared for any presentation, be able to keep your cool during your speech and leave a lasting impact on your audience.