You’ve likely experienced it: that intense feeling of dread, standing at the microphone looking at a sea of expectant faces. It’s just you, your speech, your slides, and your increasingly sweaty palms. According to Psychology Today, fear of public speaking tops death and spiders as our number one phobia. Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking, affects three-quarters of us, according to The National Institute of Mental Health. And it can be debilitating.
Terrified inside! Calm outside
Anxiety about addressing large groups even affects people who make their living delivering frequent, high-stakes presentations. Executives, professors, even celebrities get stage fright now and again. So why do they put themselves through it, over and over?
Because, as Harvard Business Review explains, “presentation skills have become key to success and will continue to be of increasing importance in the future.” As a result, even those who dread speeches find themselves at the podium. Luckily there is one thing you can do to lessen your anxiety about public speaking. The key is planning ahead. Schedule your workflow carefully, making absolutely sure there’s plenty of time for you to practice your delivery.
Rehearse. Okay, once more from the top
Whether you’re a seasoned speaker or occasional presenter, the very best way to make sure your talk runs smoothly on event day is to rehearse it. Say it out loud, in front of supportive colleagues, friends, family. In front of the mirror. Get used to your voice, the story, those slide transitions. You’ve heard it before, practice makes perfect. But how many of us actually make the time for a full run-through and then another one?
According to communications design expert Nancy Duarte (she created the presentation you see in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth), the amount of rehearsal time required to give an awesome talk is inversely proportionate to the length of the talk. “The shorter the talk, the longer the rehearsal time,” Duarte advises — and for her team the average is one hour of practice per presentation minute. Prepping a 20 minute talk? Block off two workdays to rehearse your delivery.
Technology fails. You still nail it
To deliver a talk that seems effortless and spontaneous, rehearse until you’re confident. It’s a paradox, but “in order to sound spontaneous, you have to be prepared,” says Columbia University prof Jane Praeger. “You can’t make an effective presentation if you read from a script, rely too much on notes, or use your slides as cue cards,” advises communications executive Bill Rosenthal in Forbes.
It’s risky to lean too heavily on a teleprompter script or PowerPoint deck, because technology fails, an embarrassing lesson Michael Bay recently learned in public at CES. But if you know your speech well enough, writes Shari Alexander in Entrepreneur magazine, you’ll be able to seamlessly continue on despite microphone meltdowns, webinar crashes, and projector malfunctions.
Researse it, but don’t try to memorize your talk. The added pressure of needing to remember your speech word-for-word can actually add more to your anxiety, caution the experts at Slideshare.
For career mobility, take the mic
Public speaking is not just for CEOs, politicians, and salespeople, it’s also for job seekers and entrepreneurs. In fact, today presentation skills and the ability to address a meeting are part of almost any career. To deliver your next presentation well, build in a generous buffer of time for rehearsal. Your preparedness will come across as calm confidence to your audience.