I will provide some ideas that I picked up from the book by James C. Humes titled “The Sir Winston Method: The Five Secrets of Speaking The Language of Leadership.”
Fear can be a good thing since it will mean you are going to prepare hard and practice well, so you do a great job. People who don’t fear public speaking tend to wing it and don’t get invited again. So don’t think of fear as a bad thing when you have to give a speech. Embrace it but do something about it.
Fear is Energy
We often hear people tell us to relax to reduce anxiety before we are going to give a speech. But according to research done by Harvard professor Allison Woods Brooks, she found that you will give a better performance by saying how excited you are before giving a speech. She writes in her paper in American Psychological Association (APA) titled “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement” that “Instead of trying to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ perhaps the path to success begins by simply saying ‘I am excited.’ “ If you try to calm down, then you could end up looking stiff and not credible.
Mask Your Mannerisms
Though we all have the fear of getting in front of an audience to give a speech, but you can’t show this to an audience. The audience must not know otherwise that is what they are going to focus on. On some occasion, you may just have to fake it to get through your speech.
Don’t Make Excuses
As Churchill adopted the British Foreign Office motto: “Never excuse, never explain and never complain.” Ethel Barrymore, a famous British actress, gave Winston Churchill a good advice that “you got to put on an act!”
Master the Material
The rule here is don’t bite more than you can chew. You have to know your material cold otherwise it is not going to go well. Knowing means not memorizing it since that could make you appear scripted and you could get nervous if you forget something. Also, keep it simple, Churchill learned this the hard way. When he tried to do too much in his second speech in the parliament where he tried to attach the prime minister on topics ranging from taxes, education, foreign policy, etc.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Keep it simple and manageable otherwise you are going to get nervous when your topic fails to resonate with the audience.
Know More About Your Subject Than Anyone in the Audience
Narrow the subject so you know more than anyone in the audience. Then it is up to you to deliver it.
Winston Churchill overcame his fear of public speaking and became a great speaker. You might be asking how can you do it so it does not paralyze you in a way such that it is hurting you both socially and professionally. You have to fix this now, right here. I have few tips that I have used that I used to overcome the fear of speaking, and I use it all the time, so I hope it helps you too.
One of the things I hate about getting advice is that you know that to get good what an expert or an author is presenting is going to take a long time. They are going to make it seem that it is easy, and anyone can do it. You know it can’t be that easy otherwise you would be writing the book.
Here is the honest truth. It is hard, and it will take you a while. But one thing I can’t predict is how serious you are in conquering your fear. But what I am showing below is something I do, and it is something you can do right now and incrementally get better. It took me a while since it took me three years to go from audio to video. But that is me. You may want to start with video instead of audio. It is all up to you on what you feel comfortable with.
Start with the audio first
The simplest way to overcome your fear is to record yourself on an audio recorder (or smartphone) when you are in your room by yourself, in the car or are going for a walk. I don’t do this on a smartphone since I want a dedicated device for this. I find it hard to believe so few people do this. They have no idea what they even sound like. If you do this much, you are way ahead of all those who don’t use their smartphones as an audio recorder.
Move to short videos next
After getting comfortable with audio, you can move to video next. You can start recording short videos so you can see yourself on how others see you when you are speaking to them. You can also use the video recording to make an improvement on your body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. Though we have the technology to record videos and put it on YouTube, many will put videos of others, but never put the camera on them giving a speech. Your real fear is not starting and then persevering till you get it right. .
Time for long videos
You are doing audio recording and short video recordings, but now you are ready to do long videos. By long, I mean between 15 to 20-minute video recordings. If you can record long videos on topics that you are interested in, then you now have the comfort level to talk to anyone on a one-on-one basis, small group, and a large audience.
You don’t have to be a good speaker if your speech speaks to what the audience knows or believes what you speech is about. For example, President Barack Obama, though a great speaker, is not going to be well received if he gives a speech to what he believes to a conservative Republicans. Similarly, Sarah Palin isn’t going to be well received speaking her mind to an audience composed of liberal Democrats.
You have no control over the audience, but you can control how you feel. Though you may have fear, by engaging in power poses, you can will your mind to feel the way your body is projecting, confidence when giving a speech. Getting your body to make you feel confident was explained in a popular TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, Harvard Professor. Based on the research she conducted, she recommends that just doing a two-minute power poses such as Wonder Woman or Superman makes a difference in how you come across to others..
Go from small talk to mid talk to big talk
One of the ways I try to overcome fear is to have small talk with people and try to move the conversation through mid talk to big talk. The more you practice this, the more confident you are going to get.
Power of preparation
If you are making audio recordings, short videos, and long videos and have not stopped, then you are prepared. Though you may still have fear, and it is quite natural since you want to do your best. Now when you meet people, you have to execute. In the blog by Nick Segal in Huffington Post titled “The Power of One Word,” he tells a story about his conversation with Ray Allen, a professional basketball player, at a golf course.
Segal asked Allen one question, “Ray, when the game is tight, and you are on the line, making the shot, what goes through your head?” To which Ray answered with one word: preparation.
He had the confidence to take the shot since he was prepared. Similarly, if you are willing to work hard such as audio recordings, video recordings and talking to people, then you are prepared to take the shot, and you are likely to score. There are no short cuts to success at being an NBA pro as well as being a good speaker.
Practice, practice, practice
Your success in speaking has a lot to do with practice. Though you may have fear, but practice will help, you get through it. Caitlyn Jenner faced this challenge when she had to give her Espy speech in front of a large audience and millions watching her on television.
She writes in her blog on Huffington Post titled “How I Conquered My Biggest Fear at the Espys” that she was nervous about reading her speech from the teleprompter. She was not comfortable with the prompter as she had usually given speech off the cuff. She writes that she had to “stick to the prompter because I only had a certain number of minutes to make it right, to get my points across. I practiced and practiced, and practiced, and practiced to make sure I'd nail it.”
According to Adam Grant in his blog in the Huffington Post titled “How I Overcame the Fear of Public Speaking,” he cites a research done by late Stanford Professor Robert Zajonc that an effective way to practice your speech is in front of family, friends or colleagues, so it feels real. Speaking to a camera is good, but it is not the same as having a person there in the room paying attention to your speech. You don’t want a mirror in your room the only entity to see your speech before you give it in front of an audience. You would be taking a big risk since your mirror may not be a good judge.