Gaining confidence in public speaking can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome. It can be difficult to perform confidently in small groups, let alone huge audiences. Confidence in public speaking doesn’t come overnight. It takes time, skill and talent. Some people might appear to be born as confident public speakers, but others can learn the skill over time.
I remember the first time I lost my confidence in public speaking. I was 7 years old. Growing up in England, at christmas time, it was tradition to put on the school christmas play. Every child was given a couple of lines of the christmas story to read in front of the whole school.
Some of the children memorised their lines, others had them written down on sheets of paper.
Getting ready for my first school play, I was feeling confident. I was feeling smart. My seven year-old self had convinced myself to be confident and memories the lines.
The other children said their part, and now it was my turn. Confidently, I stepped up onto a box, so I could be seen by the whole school. All the kids and all the parents were watching me. My mouth moved in front of the microphone. All I had to do was comfidently speak my line. But no words came out. I had completely forgotten my words.
Luckily, a teacher was right next to the microphone, ready to step in. She knew someone would forget their lines. So she shoved the script in front of my face to read.
But her hand writing was in cursive, and at only 7, I could only read in clear, basic letters.
I was so nervous, I had lost all confidence. I could see the letters on the page swirling around in front of me. I froze. In front of hundreds of parents and school friends. I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to simply speak the words written down in front of me but I couldn’t read them to save my life.
“Miss, I can’t read your writing” I whisper to the teacher. At least, I thought I had whispered it, the microphone was right in front of my lips, and I broadcasted my stupidity to hundreds of people.
The teacher, sternly, pointed, word by word, and read it out to me, and I repeated my line.
It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt a lot longer. Freezing during public speaking, losing confidence, having your mind go blank. Its hard enough when you are 7, and a cute kid.
Imagine it happeninng in the baodroom, in a business presentation, at your conference, during your TED talk!
It can happen, and it does. Total loss of confidence in public speaking is a very common occurrence. Most of us try it as kids, get terrified, and never do it again. But if you are on this website it means you want to get help gaining confidence to overcome your fears and anxieties, and get the confidence you need to speak and present in public.
Here are some of the biggest and best tips to help you gain that confidence.
Smile. If you are terrified on stage, just smile. It will relax you, relax the audience, and they will never know. Everyone gets scared, so fake it till you make it with a big smile.
Practice speaking at every chance you get. Start off with presenting for free. Many schools, universities and groups love having outside guests to speak. The more you can practice public speaking, the more confident you will become.
The easiest way is to limit your first talks and presentations to less than 5 minutes in total. 5 minutes is a good amount of time to prepare, wow the audience, and then get out alive. Short speaking times help minimise anxiety, and they are over before you know it.
Get positive feedback from your audience. Even if you feel like your presentation was terrible, ask them afterwards “What part did you like?” “What part did you remember the best?”.
By asking positive questions and getting positive answers you can focus on the elements your audience enjoy, and not worry about the things you got wrong.
If you make a mistake, make it big! Exaggerate any mistakes that you make for comic effect. Hiding mistakes is almost impossible, so embrace them, and use them to your advantage.
Remember that your audience wants to love you. They are on your side. They want you to be good. So be safe in the knowledge that they want to enjoy what you have to say. The audience is always supportive.
Imagine you are talking to a person stood at the very back of the room. Take deep breaths, and project your voice to the very back. If you can make sure a friend sits on the last row and you are speaking to him or her, it can make you feel a lot more confident.
Arrive at your event early, and insist on a sound-check. Remember that practicing in an empty room has a very different sound to a full room. People, and their clothing, absorb a lot of sound, so what may sound loud in a rehearsal will sound fine with a room full of people.
Ask your sound technician how to hold the microphone. If possible, use a headset mic when you are beginning.
Sadly, confidence cannot be learnt from a book. The only thing to do is to get out in the real world and start speaking from your heart.
Try to see the fear as fun. Just like some adrenaline junkies jump out of aeroplanes, public speakers leap out in front of their audience without a safety net. Try to turn it into something exciting. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Absolutely yes. 100%. Taking a class can be a fantastic way to build confidence. Make sure you have a supportive teacher who wont push you too hard as you build up your confidence.
Try not to force being funny. Never expect a laugh. Often a funny public speaker is one who uses good timing, good presentation and good pauses. Not one who bombards with joke after joke.
You need to have the confidence to be able to laugh at yourself. It is perfectly natural to have a little chuckle to yourself if you are about to reveal a secret or funny story to your audience. You don’t need to hide your laughter. Develop the self-confidence to laugh at yourself.
Start small, and build up. Most professional public speakers get their work based on word-of-mouth. So start with smaller, lower paying gigs, and work your way up. Set yourself monthly or yearly targets. If you don’t reach your target, keep going until you do.
Pace yourself. Break down your presentation into small, manageable chunks, and work your way through each chuck, bit-by-bit.
I like to break down my speeches into 2 minute sections. Once I have completed a section, I forget about it, and move on to the next section. This helps me keep calm and keep the pace throughout a longer talk.
It can be hard to keep calm for an entire hour presentation, but it is easy to keep calm for 2 minutes at a time.
Absolutely, but make sure that you don’t hide behind more confident group members. Don’t let other group members speak for you. Instead, build the confidence to leap in if a weaker, less confident group member starts to struggle.
Get used to connecting your laptop to a projector, and understanding all the settings. Spend some time learning how to use “Presenter View”. Powerpoint can also hold your notes. And you can always hit the B key to bring up a blank screen if something goes wrong.
I like to have a short talk prepared that I can use “at a moments notice” that I have memorised off-by-heart. This talk does not require any powerpoint, any hand-outs, or any other technology or presentation tools. Not even a blackboard.
This gives me great confidence, because if I arrive at a venue and there is a complete power cut, or the computers or networks are down, I always have a back up presentation, in my head, ready to go.
Figure out exactly what you are nervous about (be as specific as you can) and then work to fix that issue.
Nervous that you will say the wrong thing? Write a script and memorise it.
Nervous that you will forget your script? Keep a copy in your pocket just in case.
Nervous that you will look like an idiot? Wear clothing that makes you look and feel like a million dollars.
Nervous that you have imposter syndrome and feel like a fraud? Be honest with the audience and tell them it is “your take” on the topic, but they may have different views.
Whatever it is, find the problem, take steps to fix it, and move to the next problem.
Try the “Magic Z” trick. When you first walk out onto the stage, give a big smile, and imagine a huge letter Z is placed over the audience. Starting at the back, look from left-to-right, then diagonally from back-to-front, and then from left-to-right again along the front rows. This will give you a sense of size and scale, and allow you to make eye contact with many people at once.
Simply pick a few friendly faces in the first few rows that seem to be responding, and talk directly to them. Ignore the hundreds of other people in the room and direct your talk to a group of about 5 people who seem to be nodding and smiling. Every couple of minutes, move your gaze to a different group of people.
Dress to impress. Speak with honesty. Understand the corporate mentality. Visit any corporate websites of companies that are attending the event and see what kind of language they use, and use that language in your presentations.
The more you do it, the more confidence you will gain. Consider video or audio recording yourself multiple times and review it, so you get to see how the auditioning panel sees you.
Notice what you might change to make your audition better.
Slow down. Relax. Change your mindset. When pitching a business, it is very rarely an “all or nothing” Dragons Den style presentation. See the pitch not as a be-all-and-end-all presentation, but the start of a conversation.
What do you think? What tips or advice would you give to someone who wants to work on improving their confidence as a public speaker? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. I really look forward to hearing from you.