Follow these tips to get over your fear of public speaking

Anxiety over public speaking often prevents people from taking opportunities that may advance their careers. Here, Siguthani Bryan offers advice on how to move past it

Siguthani Bryan's avatar
15 May 2024
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A professional giving a presentation in front of a seated audience
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Does the voice inside your head have plenty to say but when it’s presented with an opportunity to speak aloud, your lips remain sealed? Do you have light bulb moments that might change the course of history, if only you spoke up during staff meetings? What about the opportunity you gave up to serve as a group leader on a project simply because you thought that your public speaking skills weren’t good enough? Have you asked yourself why? Nine out of 10 times, that is the ideal place to begin.

Who we are as adults is heavily influenced by our childhood experiences; were we encouraged to speak our thoughts, share ideas, make suggestions or question our environments? Or were we discouraged by friends or adults whose opinions meant the world to our growing minds?

Fear rooted in past experiences is common. Research shows that we all experience some level of anxiety at one point or another. It’s comforting to know that you are not alone, right? When you feel this way just before an opportunity to speak publicly, take a moment to do the following:

Three 3s and a T

First 3: move three body parts
The anxiety of not knowing if something will happen is enough to make you feel unsettled. Moving three body parts can help you centre yourself, give you a reality check and ground you in the present moment.

Second 3: listen for three sounds
Engaging your senses is an important step towards regaining consciousness of your current situation. By identifying sounds (no matter how soft, loud, disturbing or profound), we can direct our energy into the present.

Third 3: identify three things
When you’re feeling anxious, taking a moment to look for (and silently name) three things may seem a bit more challenging than usual, but this deliberate action takes your attention away from your anxiety and back to reality.

T: talk
The things we feel most anxious about are often easily debunked by someone more balanced than we are in a situation that we find stressful; that is why talking to someone you trust is a critical step in dealing with anxiety.

Record your light bulb moments

Write these thoughts down one word, one sentence or one phrase at a time. If you work in the IT, student affairs or marketing department and have been invited to address a new cohort of higher education students, record your thoughts as you research and gather information. Often, we doubt that we would ever be able to stand in front of a group of people and speak. Airing our thoughts on paper first can help alleviate our fears (of freezing or forgetting what we intended to say). The funny thing is that once you start writing that bright idea that dawns on you in the shower, while waiting in line at a bank or while brushing your teeth, you may not stop until you have created a masterpiece. The masterpiece doesn’t mean perfection, but starting is certainly one of the hardest steps, so we can regard it as a masterpiece for now.

Practise and revise

Practise and revise your content until you are satisfied it meets the requirements. Tweak those sentences, chop off the superfluous details that send you off-topic and leave room for an impromptu joke. You might reach the stage where you do not need cue cards because you know the material that well. Or not. And that, too, is OK. Standing in front of an audience to read, speaking without notes or taking an occasional glance at notes can all be personal goals for you at different stages. The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to get that overwhelming feeling of anxiety in front of your audience. Practise, revise, practise! Not to the extent that you sound like a “text to read” feature but enough so that you are familiar and comfortable with your content.

Just do it!

If you feel the urge, drive or yearn to stand in front of a group of people to speak, it’s because you are capable of just that. The ability to silence the noise in your head and tame the anxiety in your body is what stands between that possibility and your current reality. The most humbling part of presenting in front of an audience, however, is that no one knows exactly what you wrote down and practised. If you listen to the voice in your head from your childhood demanding that you be quiet, then you will miss an opportunity to kick anxiety to the curb and step into a new frame of mind. Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, once said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” One thing reigns true; you cannot find your voice if you do not use it. Get out of your head. Dare yourself to speak up at that next staff meeting; remember that your voice is unique and deserves to be heard.

Breathe, embrace your light bulb moments, practise and just do it. These steps may not be easy the first time around but if you make a conscious effort to start with one and grow into the others, you will soon find yourself outside of your comfort zone and doing what you know you are capable of; changing the course of your history. It’s time to lower the volume on the voice inside your head as you work through anxiety and succeed in public speaking.

Siguthani Bryan is an outreach and marketing officer at the University of the West Indies Global Campus, Saint Lucia.

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