Conquering Fears: 5 tips to improve your public speaking skills

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Anna Espenhahn
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The National Institute of Mental Health reported that approximately 73% of the population is affected by glossophobia or the fear of public speaking. This fear is a challenge that college students must overcome. In one’s academic and professional life, public speaking is bound to arise in one form or another from giving a class presentation, being interviewed, or even in a job. As an introvert who used to be petrified of giving a presentation, but now thrives in the spotlight, I hope to share my knowledge of how to get over the nerves with these five tips.

Prepare to present

I know it’s hard to hear, but you are not going to have a good presentation if you don’t practice. Putting in the effort before you stand in front of a crowd makes the difference, especially with something as nerve racking as public speaking. There is a lot less room to mess up when you have your speech down pat. If you put in the effort behind the scenes, many of your nerves will go away because of sheer confidence in what you’re presenting. 

Listen to your words

Have a tool, such as Google or Siri, read your speech back to you. This is a great way to find any lulls, grammar mistakes, or confusing phrasing that may be present. You will actually be able to hear what the information might sound like if it was presented to you. I love using this tip because it gives you insights on where your speech could improve and forces you to write out what you plan to say. There is less room for error when you plan out what to say, rather than winging it completely. This doesn’t mean you must stay 100% on script, but you will have a general outline and key points to follow. 

Practice in mirror

Watch yourself speak. This may sound weird and maybe a bit narcissistic, but watching yourself in the mirror while you practice is a great way to become aware of your body language. You can practice what to say all you want, but if your body language doesn’t match then the whole speech will have the wrong tone. Body language is just as important as spoken language when it comes to presenting. 

Pro Tip: To get a boost of confidence before a presentation, stand in the “superman” pose with your feet spread shoulder length apart and have your hands on your hips. Standing in a powerful pose for two minutes has proven to boost confidence levels. 

Hide while in the spotlight

Visuals, whether a PowerPoint, display, photos, or any other visual aid, can help when presenting. Having something to look back to can help you keep your thoughts when anxiety might take over. It also helps take the audiences’ eyes off of you and instead redirects their attention to a screen or other display. Thinking back to this can be a mental release of anxiety, reminding yourself “they aren’t looking at me” if you feel as though all eyes are glued on you.

Another tip is to stand behind a podium, table, or desk. Hiding part of your body can be enough to trick your brain into thinking you are safer than you would be without it. When using this tip, be mindful. You don’t want to fidget with or hide yourself completely behind an object. 

Fake it ’til you make it

This is by far my favorite tool when it comes to presenting. First, I use the superman pose to gain my initial boost before I take the spotlight. Then I simply ‘fake it ’til I make it’. I become aware of my body, making sure to avoid any swaying, fidgeting, or any other distracting gestures. From there I let my muscle memory take charge and I present the speech I spent hours writing and listening to. I use the hand and body movements I laid out when practicing in the mirror. I fall back on my visuals when I forget what to say, or feel like too many eyes are on me. Lastly, I tell myself while I may be scared out of my mind, no one in the room knows that. If you can fake confidence in the beginning, you will find it along the way.

Public speaking can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. It is a learned behavior, so as long as you put in the work you will be good to go. Always remember to prepare adequately and be confident – then you can’t go wrong!


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