How I Overcame My Fear of Public Speaking
“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”
In 2012, I was elected as the chair of the University of Tampa’s Board of Counselors. I was honored and humbled to have been selected, but that quickly subsided into nervousness when I realized the role required me to speak in public at every event. I was faced with two options: Decline the position and remain in the same exact place or seize the opportunity, face my fears, and get better and better with every speech.
Public speaking is not an option if you want to be successful; it is a requirement and one that I knew I had to break though. However, it wasn’t enough to just be average or mediocre. I wanted to become a master at public speaking. I decided that I was up for the challenge, but I knew it was going to be a long and embarrassing road. The most difficult part was getting through those first couple of speeches. While many people were very supportive and encouraging, the ones who sniped behind my back stood out the most. During times like these, it’s important to remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Don’t let those people bring you down; overcoming obstacles compels you to grow.
I showed up and spoke at every event. It wasn’t an overnight accomplishment, but one that I took step-by-step until it finally came together on the day I delivered my first real speech to 650 people. Looking back now, I truly credit that first stepping stone with helping me break through my speaking fears and I am prepared to continue mastering the role.
Here are 10 tips to overcome your fear of public speaking (or any fears for that matter):
- Create an Outline. “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail” – Benjamin Franklin. Create an outline with an introduction, speaking points, and a conclusion. If you are not using your own words and speaking from your heart, you will have no basis for a speech. If you allow someone else to write the speech or talking points for you, you’ll just end up reading their words off of a paper. It has to be built and created by YOU.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. It is very important to practice your speech. I like to set up my IPad and record myself reciting my speech. This allows me to evaluate not only my message, but also the tone in my voice, my body language, and facial expressions. If I am making a motion out of nervousness, I can easily catch it and be more cautious not to repeat my mistakes.
- Be Open to Suggestions. When I practice my speech in front of friends and family, I always like to ask for their feedback. When you’ve read the same material so many times, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to critique it objectively. Therefore, having that outside perspective is invaluable. Sometimes one particular story will stand out and they’ll suggest opening with it to engage the audience. Be open to outside feedback, but only change what you’re comfortable with. At the end of the day, the words need to be your own and they have to come from the heart in order to deliver a passionate and authentic speech.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Fail. Yes, you run the risk of tripping in front of an audience, stuttering, or forgetting a line, but failure makes for a great comeback story so don’t every let fear hold you back from success. Everyone experiences failure and setbacks; they’re part of life. It only makes you more human.
- Sign Up for Toastmasters. If speaking engagement opportunities aren’t pouring in just yet, create your own. Toastmasters is a great way to force yourself to practice and speak in public at least once a week. I suggest trying a few different venues until you find the right fit, as each club’s rules, regulations, and “vibe” vary by location.
- Screw the Haters. Anytime you put yourself out there, expect to receive some kind of criticism. Don’t let the haters bring you down! There are always going to be those few people who have something negative to say. They should be evaluating their own lives, not yours. The people who tell me I can’t do something usually add to my burning desire to succeed. Let their criticism be the motivation for your success.
- Be Confident. If you do not believe in yourself, neither will anyone else, so be confident! Remember that by challenging yourself, you’re making positive strides towards success. Stand tall, speak clear, and make eye contact with your audience. Remember that you are sending strong messages to the audience through your body language and comfort level.
- Speak Positive Affirmations. This might sound crazy, but it works. Write down at least 25 reasons describing why you’re a great public speaker with interesting stories to tell. Eventually, you’ll believe it, and more importantly, project it.
In the beginning, I set a rule for my myself that I would NEVER turn down an opportunity to speak if I was asked. Although there are times when I’d like to pass, since setting that guideline I have yet to turn down a speech. With each one, I am slowly mastering my comfort level in front of an audience.
Whatever you do, don’t give up! Always believe in yourself and never give up the fight. You can do anything that you put your mind too.
I hope these tips help you tackle your own public speaking fears. If you’ve experienced similar challenges or have a tip to add to this list, please feel free to share below!