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How to get over your fear of public speaking

presentation skills

With this surprisingly simple two-step technique, you can end your fear and feel good in front of your audience. In my training workshops, I’ve seen the technique work for hundreds of people. Their delight – and relief – is wonderful to see. Here’s the summary:

  1. Shift your emotional focus from yourself to the audience. 
  2. Make it obvious that you want them to get your message.

Shift your emotional focus

When you worry about speaking and what the audience will think of you, your emotional focus is on yourself. You may see the audience as the cause of your fear, but that puts your emotional focus on you and your survival. It means that you put more priority on yourself than on your audience. They always know. They don’t like it. They may sympathize, but they see you as lacking credibility.

Think about one thing at a time

Take advantage of the fact that the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. We don’t – we can’t – multitask. The idea that we can has been thoroughly disproven. Although activities like raising children seem to be multi-tasking, the exhausted adult mind is just darting from one demand to another. You doubt me? Next time you have some superficial but painful injury – a cut, a graze, a bruise – immerse yourself in a favourite activity, especially if it involves attention to detail. It’s one of the best pain killers around.

Ask the right questions

So, let’s kill the pain of public speaking. Ask yourself, Who am I here for? The answer has to be, I’m here for the audience. Why am I here? The answer has to be, I’m here to deliver a message. Imagine deliberately replacing fear-filled thoughts (I’m not a speaker / I’ll stuff it up / I’ll lose my words) with thoughts like, I really want you to get this message / It’s important that you understand this / You need to get this. Don’t just recite the words,  feel the shift of your attention and your priorities from yourself to the audience.

If you’re no longer thinking about being nervous, are you still nervous?

That’s the first step.

How do I make it obvious that I want them to get my message?

In fact, if you really get step 1, you’re already started on step 2. Your new focus will show up in your tone and your body / eye language.

Deliberately speak with a little more energy. Deliberately look from one person to another with a little more urgency. Deliberately allow your expression to show how interesting and important your message is. Such speakers enjoy high credibility and believability. Such speakers enjoy speaking.

One more thing. If your brain has been wired for fear for a long time, it might resist this technique simply because it means rewiring. So try it out on a trusted colleague first and get feedback on how you look and sound.

Michael Brown is a Bookboon author: see How to prepare for your presentation, How to connect with any audience, and How to handle questions and interjections.