Even after 15 years and over one thousand lectures, I can't say that I've completely overcome the fear of public speaking. On some occasions, I still get some butterflies when I first get up in front of the audience. Public speaking isn't something that was ever natural for me.
It was most difficult during my first couple of years. Even if the group consisted of just a few people, I would dread the moment. I always had plenty of friends and was quite social, but there was something about the formal setting of standing up and presenting my thoughts and ideas that shook me to the core. My heart would start pounding like that of a hummingbird. My mouth would dry up and I would start perspiring. I used every bit of creativity to avoid public speaking throughout high school and college. In fact, I never imagined speaking publicly would become one of my primary vocations.
It is the number one fear people carry around. According to Psychology Today "Our fear of standing up in front of people and talking is so great that we fear it more than death..." This might stem from the fear of making complete fools of ourselves and tarnishing the reputation we've worked hard to establish. That perhaps, people won't think we're as smart or savvy as we present ourselves to be.
The last place I expected to begin speaking publicly was during the 15 years I spent in a monastery in New York City. Expecting a life of study, prayer, meditation and reflection I was surprised when I began receiving speaking invitations from high schools, colleges and eventually major corporations such as Google, Bank of America and others to speak on topics of stress management, meditation, healthy living and Eastern wisdom. As difficult as it was, I knew that for personal growth and to overcome my greatest fear, I had to take these opportunities. After graduating from the monastery, I continue to use the skills that I acquired in my work with professional organizations. Below are seven useful tools that I continue to apply in my work as a speaker.
1. Believe in Your Message
It really helps if you believe in and feel passionate about what you're communicating. If you do, it will come across in your facial expressions, vocal intonation and body language. The audience will connect with your message and feel your zeal for what you are conveying.
2. Get Personal and Tell Your Story
Personal stories are the best way to grab your audience's attention. Start with your story and find ways to insert it throughout the presentation. Personal journeys and human experiences are easiest for people to connect with. Data, facts and numbers can become dry causing the audience to drift off. This makes them connect to you as a person and ultimately, that is the most important component of public speaking.
3. Rehearse in Front of a Mirror or Video Camera
It's important to know how you look when you're speaking. The first time I saw a recording of myself giving a short talk, I looked angry and very intense. It's an image that's still ingrained into my mind. Since then, I've learned to relax my face and smile. Something as simple as smiling does require a little practice, especially when you're up in front of people. A recording will not only allow you to see yourself, but also listen to your content and correct awkward pauses and "uhhs" and "umms. "
4. Practice with Friends
Getting feedback from friends can be helpful. Too much feedback can get bewildering. Select a few people you trust and who can provide constructive criticism. Tell them what you want feedback on. The feedback I usually seek for my talks and articles is in reference to content, flow and body language.
5. Collect Positive Energy from Others
This is not a new-agey, woo-woo thing. It's for real. Why is it that the home team, during the middle of the game, raise their hands up and encourage the audience to cheer? That positive energy boosts confidence and lets them know that they're not alone in the endeavor. So, before you get up there, ask your friends and well-wishers to send you positive energy.
6. Breathe and Meditate
There's enough research out there that tells us meditation can relax us, reduce our stress and even increase focus. So, before your presentation, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and meditate and let go of that nervous energy.
7. Be in the Moment
You've prepared, you know your material, and you've rehearsed. Now relax and don't worry about the outcome. Best to remain focused on the moment. Thinking about the future might distract you from your content.
There's no quick and easy way to over the fear of public speaking. It requires practice and patience and like with anything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll become.