by Katarina Milovanovic
For some people public speaking is worse than watching “Insidious” all alone in the dark, the first and second part back to back. It’s their worst nightmare, and when they think of speaking in front of a crowd they feel nauseous, but if you think about it for a moment, you will realize just how ridiculous this fear is. However, the fact is that the fear is so deeply ingrained that no amount of rationalizing can help you.
I had stage fright before, and whenever I started speaking, my face would turn red and I’d look like I was about to start crying at any moment. Using these eight steps I overcame my fear, and even became a public speaking addict in the end. Moreover, once I conquered the fear I stopped using fillers and became better at conveying my ideas, and so can anyone else.
1. What was I really afraid of?
Many people have stage fright, but in order to learn how to cope with it, you need to find out exactly what you are afraid of. Some are afraid that they will embarrass themselves, whereas some think they will be rejected by the audience. This all leads to sweating, forgetting your lines and being unable to speak fluently.
In order to make the first step to becoming a more confident public speaker, you need to face your fears. Find what you are scared of, and analyze your fear. I was afraid of embarrassing myself and creating an awkward situation. So, I asked myself two questions:
What will you do to embarrass yourself? – The usual answer is “do and say something stupid”, and that was my answer. When you are on the stage, everything you do seems like it should be done that exact way. The audience doesn’t know your speech and what you need to say. Therefore, anything you do won’t be used against you.
Why is being on stage so scary? – The common answer is “it’s so quiet and people are looking at me”. Of course people are looking at you, they are waiting to hear what you have to say. Their attention is on you, the floor is yours, and you should allow yourself to feel like a celebrity every once in awhile.
In some cases, people don’t know the cause of their fear, and cannot explain why they start to shiver and mumble the moment they step on the stage.
2. I practice at home
Practice, practice and practice, will make you the best public speaker. There is no better way to become more confident than knowing everything about the subject matter you are covering in your speech. This was my routine before I got used to speaking in public: I’d stand in front of the mirror and pretend a large audience was listening to me.
It’s not the same, but speaking in front of a big audience is a lot like watching yourself in the mirror while speaking. Let’s not stop there. Everyone hates how their voice sounds when it’s recorder and played back to them, and even famous actors don’t like to see themselves on big screens because they sound “weird” to themselves. When you start feeling awkward, pay attention to see if you are speaking clearly, and focus on your intonation.
When you pass these two phases, you need to call some friends over and have them listen to you. All singers, actors and performers say that they become ashamed and nervous when they see their family members and close friends in the audience. It’s better to face the worst immediately, so you won’t be afraid of unfamiliar faces when you go on stage.
3. I act naturally
The best thing to do in order to become more confident is pretend you are participating in some slightly bigger dinner party – something like a Greek family reunion, with all of the close and extended family seated at a long table – and are discussing something with the other guests. Act naturally, and talk with them, don’t just focus on finishing your speech as fast as you can.
Relax, take a deep breath and be yourself. There is no need to act differently and copy some public speakers, because the only way to have an interesting speech and convey the message is to act naturally. Some even suggest that people who suffer from anxiety during interviews or speeches, should only inform themselves about the matter and just go with a flow. Think about it.
4. I get the audience laughing
If you start your speech with a joke, it will both lighten up the atmosphere and relax you. A joke will instantly boost your confidence, as you will feel more comfortable speaking. Moreover, the audience won’t be bored and will definitely pay attention.
If you are at an event that hosts many different speakers, there is a huge chance people will get bored and lose concentration quickly. When no one listens to you, it can be very hard to stay confident. That’s why I break the ice with a joke, then introduce the topic in an interesting manner.
5. I focus on the material
During my studies, whenever I had to present some essay or hold a debate, I was afraid of saying something that will make me sound stupid. It was so bad that I even forgot the meaning of some terms related to the topic. All that I could hear was the voice in my head saying: “Pay attention, don’t be stupid.” I wasn’t afraid of the other students, but of professors who were judging my every sentence.
However, once I realized that this irrational fear prevented me from presenting all of my knowledge and capabilities, I focused on the material and just saying what I wanted to say. I didn’t pay attention to what the audience thinks, as I was determined to prove my point and have my voice heard. You need to keep eye contact with the audience in order to engage them better, so learn not to think about their facial expressions and what they might be thinking.
6. I listen to music before the speech
When I had to stand in front of hundreds of people, everyone told me to sit in a quiet room and concentrate. It’s like meditation that will make you relaxed and calm. However, this didn’t help a lot, as I couldn’t calm myself because of all the adrenalin pumping through my veins. My friend, who had more experience than me, sent me a playlist and told me just to listen to it.
The negative energy and the nervousness I had were transformed into a calm positive energy after listening to a few encouraging songs. This put me in a positive mood, which helped me overcome my fear, and I felt like a rock star. The songs I listened to were different things from The Queen and RHCP, and “Waiting all night” from Rudimental, which made me jump around the room. It actually doesn’t matter what you listen to, as long as it is a fast song and you love it. Music plays a huge role in our lives, especially when it comes to motivation.
7. I dress for success
I feel a lot more confident when I’m dressed well. This means I wear comfortable clothes, which make me look both professional and beautiful. When I am dressed like I’m speaking at the most important event of the year, I feel more confident to stand on stage and be looked at. I usually wear clothes that I am used to, rather than buying new clothes and worrying I might experience a wardrobe malfunction.
If you haven’t tried it, put on your favorite clothes and make a big entrance, flying out to the stage and feeling like you’ve just won an Oscar. If you fall, don’t worry, you can always pull of a cute Jennifer Lawrence look after you get up.
8. I prepare for mistakes
The worst thing that can happen to you is to get confused when you make a mistake. You start blushing, sweating, and then you say something that makes the whole audience uncomfortable. When I was just starting to speak in public on a more regular basis, I used to always prepare some backup lines in case I made a mistake. Once, I accidentally said the conclusion before including the previous steps, and I said “Oops, that escalated quickly.” Everyone laughed and I continued confidently my speech.
Mistakes have a positive effect on people, as you are human and it is normal to make a mistake – you cannot just recite the text you’ve prepared. This way you show that you think about the things you are talking about, and are not just going through a script.
When you get to love public speaking some issues like what to do with your hands, won’t be a problem as it will come naturally. However, if you have some problems with posture, try keeping your back straight as it will boost both your confidence and credibility. Try out different methods, as we are all different, and you cannot expect to overcome your problem by doing only one thing. According to my experience, these eight points will certainly help you become a rock star in front of the crowd.