Presentation Skills: Tips For Overcoming A Fear Of Public Speaking – Part 1

Are you frightened of speaking in public? You’re not alone. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can genuinely tell me they weren’t very nervous before their first couple of presentations. Being nervous is a good thing as it gives you a pool of energy you can harness to perform at your best. The trouble arises when you are so nervous that it inhibits your ability to function and remember what you were going to say.

This is the first in a four-part series of tips for overcoming a fear of public speaking. In this article we look at rehearsing, memorizing the first few minutes and having key points to remind you what you are going to speak about. In later articles we look at ways to stop the feeling of panic, memory techniques, asking for help and having back up plans for the worst things that could happen.

Tip #1 Rehearse

The more confidence you feel when you walk onto the stage, the better. You can get this confidence from the real thing (giving presentations) or by rehearsing. Practice your presentation in front of friends, the mirror, a video camera or alone. Every time you rehearse, you will identify areas to improve upon and begin to feel more confident about giving the presentation.

I find that if I am practising by myself or in front of a mirror that I tend to waffle a lot more than I do in front of an audience. I also speak much more slowly during rehearsal than I do for the real thing. So if you are practising to make sure your timing is right; keep in mind this difference in speed.

Tip #2 Memorize the first 2 or 3 minutes of your presentation

Most people usually feel extremely nervous for the first few minutes of a presentation. Once you are into it, your nervous energy settles down and you become focused more upon the task than upon worry. To help you get through this first 2 or 3 minutes, it may be useful to memorize the start of your talk.

Tip #3 Have some key points to remind you what to say next

One of the key fears presenters have is that they will forget what they have to say. There are a few things you can do to overcome this challenge:

  • Speak in terms of ideas rather than trying to remember words. If you are speaking about an idea, the words you need to use will flow more naturally.
  • Use the notes pages from your PowerPoint presentation rather than your written paper. On the notes part for each slide put some bullet points about the major topics you were going to discuss for that slide. Don’t write down all the details, just the major points. If you write down all the details, the writing will be very small and you may start to panic trying to look through the tiny writing to find where you are up to.
  • If you would feel more comfortable using your written paper, beware of the fact that it is harder to find where you are up to in pages and pages of writing. Highlight the key points you will need to focus upon. Don’t highlight whole paragraphs, just key words or phrases so that you can quickly and easily skim to find where you are up to.
  • You will find it even easier if you can turn your presentation into a story. Stories have their own natural links and logical process. By telling a story, rather than giving a presentation, you can almost guarantee you won’t forget where you are up to.

The first three ways for overcoming your fear of public speaking were to rehearse, memorize the first few minutes and have some key points to remind you what you are going to say next. Other great ways for overcoming your fear of public speaking are provided in the next three articles in this series.