What gives you the heebie-jeebies? Heights? Flying? Elevators? Spiders? Being stuck inside a high-flying elevator with a funnel-web spider?
None of these horrific scenarios comes even close to the number one fear on the planet – shared by over 60% of the population – and that's speaking in front of other people.
Public speaking is feared even more than death. Yep, death.
Scientists call this fear "Glossophobia" and symptoms vary from tummy butterflies, sweaty palms, a dry mouth and a condition known to the medical profession as "the shakes".
That's if you're lucky. More extreme – but far from uncommon – symptoms also include nausea, vomiting, panic attacks and loss of control of your bladder.
When you're up there, all alone… exposed… your audience is going experience a quivering, coughing, sputtering, umming, ahhing, mumbling mess who's only wish is to get the heck off stage.
If you have a fear of flying, you can always take a bus. If you have fear of spiders, you can always cancel your trip to Australia.
But you know, when your time comes, there's just no worming your way out of it. So the choice is yours – retreat into a catatonic ball – or face up to your fear. In fact, you'll quickly discover there's nothing to fear at all.
We're here to tell you: YOU CAN DO IT!. Not only that: YOU CAN DO IT AWESOMELY!
Let's walk through some super simple steps you can apply anytime and anyplace. Think of it like making a sandwich.
YOUR FIRST STEP: PREPARE YOUR INGREDIENTS
Was Martin Luther King just winging it as he declared "I Have a Dream"
If you get a chance, watch Gary Oldman's remarkable turn as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour". The movie shows his obsessive working and reworking of his "we will fight them on the beaches" speech – a speech that changed the course of history.
In other words: you're way more likely to succeed if you start with SOMETHING rather than nothing. Let's get started:
Grab a pen and paper and jot down your thoughts about your given topic.
Take that pen and paper with you everywhere (or use EverNote or mobile note-taking apps)
Your words don't have to make sense... yet.
Just keeping jotting down your thoughts whenever they pop into your head.
Once you've got a decent bunch of ideas, group them and ideas into logical chunks or themes (Microsoft Word or any other text-editing software can come in handy here). E.g.:
funny stories from our schooldays
the main characters in the book
new skills you've acquired
proposed digital marketing tactics
Next, to turn each idea into a simple sentence.
Note: Childhood friend → Sentence: Jane and I have been friends since childhood.
Note: Ahab → Sentence: The central character of this story is Captain Ahab
Note: Excel → Sentence: I am proficient I writing formulas in Microsoft Excel
Note: Company Blog → Sentence: I propose that we demonstrate our specialised industry expertise to potential customers via a company blog
Then start cutting and pasting to rearrange those sentences into a simple story. This could be:
Characters, plot, themes
Skills, roles, responsibilities
Goals, Strategy, tactics
The basic task here is to make a tasty sandwich:
TOP SLICE: HAVE A CLEAR BEGINNING
Introduce your topic
State your objective
BOTTOM SLICE: HAVE A CLEAR ENDING
Summarize your key points
Propose some sort of action, e.g.:
Raise your glasses
Read the book
Make me an offer
Sign the contract
THE FILLING: ALL THE OTHER DELICIOUS DETAILS CAN GO IN THE MIDDLE
Avoid repetition (unless it's for dramatic affect)
Highlight all the most important points
And arrange them in a logical flow
If there's one thing most "how to avoid your fear of public speaking" videos leave out, it is this super important step:
NEXT STEP: ADDING YOUR SECRET SAUCE.
This step is super easy! And it's going to be more helpful than anything else in this entire blog.
Can you imagine Churchill delivering "I Have a Dream"? or Reverend King challenging Britons to "Fight Them on the Beaches"?. The results would have been hilarious… as well as disastrous.
Both men wrote to their own unique voices. It didn't just sound natural, it sounded AUTHENTIC.
Here's how you can sound authentic too.
Firstly, take your script and read it aloud – not in your head, and not in a whisper – BUT OUT LOUD.
Note every single word, phrase or sentence that trips you up.
Is a word too long or complicated? Find a shorter, simpler word
Is a word too hard to pronounce? Why IS "Statistics" so hard to say? Why not "facts" or "figures" instead?
Does the word order of a phrase sound awkward? Change it. Make it more natural – how would you say it in casual conversation? Go with that
Do you have sentences than are more like paragraphs? Break them up. As a general rule, you only need one verb (action word) per sentence
This gives you an added advantage – more opportunities to take a breath.
Be brutal. Be relentless. Simplify, shorten, break, rearrange
Now rinse and repeat – each draft should sound more and more like YOU and less and less like it was lifted from Wikipedia.
The closer it comes to your natural and unique way of speaking, the easier it will be to:
• Say it in public
• Say it without mistakes
• Memorize it
• Feel more relaxed and confident
Take a opportunity to visit those great speeches of the past – you will be amazed at
• How many 1-syllable words they use
• How many normal, even boring, but natural and everyday words the use
• How short their sentences are.
• How natural and confident they look and sound
• How excited they make their audience feel.
There's a myth that ponderous, complex, flowery speech will somehow make you sound important. It doesn't.
There's a myth than long, complicated academic terms will make you sound smart. It doesn't.
There's a myth that business and technical jargon will make you sound clever. It doesn't.
They only thing that makes you sound important, smart, and clever is YOU.
Scale your Audience
Guess what? You've already given a killer speech in public.
What the? In fact, you probably gave 4 public speeches today… before lunch.
Any time you find yourself talking to more than 1 person, you're technically speaking in public.
People are a conversation
3 or more people are a presentation.
Any more than that is just a simple matter of mathematics.
OK, let's start scaling
Read out loud – you will already have done this as you simplify and personalise your script. Keep doing it.
Practice in front of the mirror OK it's not a *real* audience, but hopefully it is your most observant and critical audience member – yourself
Try to make eye contact with yourself for longer and longer periods (and less reading from the script)
Observe any distracting habits you might have – hands in pockets, playing with your pen, rocking back and forth.
Observe, Note, and then repeat eliminating any bad habits one by one.
If you can first convince yourself – you can convince anybody.
Practice in front of a friendly face.Have your buddy take a seat, while you stand.Then give them your speech, they don't have to know much about your topic – in fact, the less they know the better.
Request that they refrain from comments until you're finished.
When you've finished. ask them:
• What was I talking about?
• Was it easy to understand?
• What did you not understand?
• What did I convince you to think, feel or do?
• Were you convinced?
• What did I do well?
• What did I do badly?
• Did your feel awkward or uncomfortable?
• When? Why?
• How could I eliminate or reduce that?
• How did my voice sound?
• Did it resonate or get lost?
• How was my body language?
• Did it match what I was trying to say
• Did you notice any nervous mannerisms?
• How can you help me improve?
You're now ready to take a quantum leap
Step 4: Double your audience size
This is a simple, yet amazingly effective hack.
This time have TWO friends sit down in front of you.
Your goal: to maximize - while evenly dividing - your attention and eye contact between each friend.
And repeat step 3, asking the same questions.
Tada! You've just presented your speech in public!
You can add another and another and another audience member if you like – but as we've said, the rest is purely maths.
And now… the most important lesson of all.
It requires no skill or practice. Just one simple and indisputable fact:
D. Your audience really, really, really, wants you to succeed.
Every single person in the room is egging you on, wishing you well. The last thing they want is for you to fail. This is so important I'm going to repeat it again:
Your audience wants you to succeed.
E. And finally, here are a few simple on-the-day body hacks to help you overcome nerves.
Here’s your handy-dandy first aid kit to get you through and it won’t cost a scent:
A bottle of room-temperature water
A piece of tissue paper
Take a sip.
Breath in… count to 5… breath out
Take a few sips - not gulps - before you start.
And keep the bottle close by during your talk.
Nothing uglier than sweaty pits – wear a t-shirt under your regular top. And if that doesn’t help… No. just kidding - stick to the t-shirt option
If you must read from your script – large sheets of paper only exaggerate how nervous you are. Replace them with palm-sized index cards.
We call this one “Elvis Leg” Just stand still and hold your ground. Feet one shoulder width apart, keep your weight evenly balanced. Do not shift your weight.
Moving around and working in the room is an advanced skill. That can come later. For now just stand still and stand easy.
Brain Freeze – Treat each freeze like like a dramatic pause.
Don’t show your panic. And don’t tell them you’ve forgotten your next point.
Smile at your audience.
Ask them a question.
Take a deep breath.
Make a comment to get them to reconnect with you: “It’s really chilly/warm/toasty/stuffy in here isn’t it?”
Talk too fast?
Slow it down. Practice over and over at a really slow, comfortable pace… with plenty of pauses.
Get to the room early. Walk around it. Get up on stage.
Visualize yourself doing an awesome job. Ask do a little sound check – just your first couple of slides – this can give you a huge boost of confidence.
As XXXX said, 90% is just showing up.
And then there’s:
Loss of bladder and bowel control.
He, whadda I look like? A doctor?
Seriously, you might want to consult a physician or perhaps a psychologist. This thing is obviously bigger than the both of us.
Well that’s about it. We hope we’ve covered some practical ways to turn public speaking into something you can face, rather than fear.
CEO at Slidebean/FounderHub. TEDx Speaker. 500 Startups Alum. 40-under-40.