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14 tips to help you if you’re nervous about public speaking

Do you like public speaking?

Some people do. I don’t mind it, but there are times when I feel more nervous. I know some people feel nervous every time, and whilst I can’t promise a magic formula that will help you to love public speaking, I have 14 tips that will hopefully make it easier.

What’s the biggest problem?

The first thing to find out is what is actually causing you most stress. For me, speaking in front of other people is not too stressful – unless I have no time to prepare, or I have to speak in my second language. Speaking in German in front of a group of people is hard for me, even though I know I can do it.

For other people, it’s about being the centre of attention. They don’t like public speaking for this eason. They worry that they will forget what they want to say, or that the words will come out too fast or in the wrong order.

The solutions and tips that will help you will depend to some extent on what the problem is, so it’s worthwhile thinking about that first. For anyone who would rather listen to this information, you can also listen to the podcast episode that I made on this subject.

General tips for speaking in front of others

1. Generally most people wish you well

There are of course situations in which there is animosity, such as when you’re delivering bad news or telling people about a change that they don’t want. But generally, unless they are really mean, most people will wish you well. They aren’t waiting for you to fail so that they can laugh at you. They usually want to know about something you can teach them or have an interest in the topic. It may feel daunting to see a sea of faces waiting expectantly, but most of the time you’ll have at least a percentage of people who are on your side and not out to get you or laugh at you.

If thinking about the people waiting to hear you makes you feel nervous, think about the value that you’re bringing instead. Try to focus on the material, and the things that you know, rather than the things that you don’t know or can’t prepare for.

2. Don’t look down at your notes all the time

Even if you want to be fully prepared and make sure that you don’t miss anything out, looking down at your notes will make your voice carry downwards, and not out towards your audience. If you don’t project your voice, it will be harder for the audience to hear you, and this will make them lose interest faster.

3. Take some time to calm yourself

Try not to rush into the room at the last minute, feeling out of breath or stressed because you’re late. Leave yourself some time to familiarise yourself with the venue, and enough time to get there. Even if it’s just a room in your office, give yourself enough time to make it there without getting flustered.

If you know you’re likely to feel nervous, find somewhere quiet to collect your thoughts, or go for a little walk.

Avoid spending time with people who will make you feel worse. You know, the kind of people who always make you feel even more nervous by saying the wrong thing. If you want to talk to people, find those who will encourage you or say something positive.

4. Make sure you know your topic and do your preparation

After all the preparation, you still have to deliver that talk, but knowing you’ve done the groundwork, structured what you want to say, and done your research can also help you to relax a bit because you feel more confident about your material. For many people who feel nervous, the preparation is the easy bit, but going over what you’re going to say a few times can help you to focus on the topic, rather than the listeners.

5. Don’t start with 100 people

If you haven’t done much public speaking before, don’t start with a massive audience. Build up gradually. Start with a couple of friends or supportive family members. Then build up to something like your immediate team at work. Throwing yourself in at the deep end doesn’t always get the best results, so if you know that you have something bigger coming up, try to identify a couple of opportunities beforehand for speaking in front of smaller groups.

Also work out what is worse for you – speaking in front of strangers or people that you know. I generally do better in front of strangers that I will never have to see again, whereas others get confidence from familiar faces. Try to think about what you find difficult so that you can address that before you have to do something really important.

6. You’re not an actor rehearsing lines

I have actually seen someone learn their presentation word for word and off by heart. At the time I thought “this is not going to end well”, but they actually pulled it off and were able to deliver the speech from memory. But that’s a lot of work. It’s great if you can do it, but it takes a long time, and there is a danger that if you forget the next part, it will throw you completely, because you’ve only learned the words in that order. If you lose your place, it can be harder to get on track.

I’m not going to say that you should never learn a speech by heart, because some people have a photographic memory and it’s really easy for them. I just want to say that there are easier ways to prepare!

7. Try to get someone that you can see who will encourage you

Going back to the first point, if you know there will be someone in your audience who will support and encourage you, try to get them to sit in your line of sight. Don’t look at them the whole time, but it might help you to know that they are there if you start to feel nervous or anxious about how your words are being received.

Tips for presenting in another language

1. Take your time

This is good advice for anyone, but especially if you are speaking in another language, you can feel tempted to gallop through and get to the end. Then it’s over and you can go and sit down.

However, this is not a good strategy, because the faster you speak, the harder it will be for others to understand you, and for you to get your words out clearly and easily. So try to take deep breaths and deliver your words without gabbling them in an attempt to be finished sooner.

2. Get used to hearing yourself speaking the language

After a couple of years of podcast editing, I’m used to hearing my own voice now and it doesn’t bother me that much. However, I still don’t like to hear myself speaking German. So when I have to hear myself speaking German, particularly if it’s a speech and not part of a conversation, I don’t like it. When I was still at school, my German teacher told me to listen to myself more. It’s the last thing that you want to do if you’re someone who struggles with this, but it does get easier the more you do it, or maybe you learn to care less.

3. Practice more

You can practice too much and get to the point where you never want to hear the words again, but I do think it helps to set yourself aside a bit more time if you’re working in another language. If you don’t need it, fine! But if you do, you won’t feel so rushed. If you forget what you wanted to say, it’s easy to find your way back in your own language, but it takes a bit more work on your part when you’re using a 2nd or 3rd language.

4. Practice or avoid any words that you find difficult

Some words are vital to what you want to say, and there is no way round them. In those cases, you just have to practice until they sound ok, or at least until you don’t feel as though they are tying your tongue in knots.

In other cases, if there is an avoidable word that keeps tripping you up, you might be able to swap it out for something that means the same thing, but that is easier to say.

5. Don’t read from a script

Try to limit how much you do it, even if it’s really tempting! It’s not a great idea, particularly if it’s obvious that you’re reading. You will be more engaging if you don’t have to rely on word-for-word notes 100%.

If using a script is the only way you feel you can do it, at least in the beginning, it’s better than freezing up and not being able to speak, but if you can work with bullet points and talk around them, it will help you to feel more natural and to look at your audience, rather than your notes all the time.

6. Do other things that involve talking spontaneously about a subject in the other language

Especially if speaking is one of your least favourite things to do in the other language, you can feel a lot of pressure when you have to do it and other people are listening. Try to put yourself in other situations in which you have to talk about the subject. This could be conversations with others, or even talking to yourself in the car. Anything that gets you thinking and speaking about the topic without any prompts. This will make it easier if you are asked questions after your speech, because you will have practiced thinking and speaking about that topic. Of course you can’t prepare for everything, but it will help you to feel more confident because you will have practiced some of the vocabulary and structures

7. Do not make your notes in your native language

Some of the other tips are suggestions that may or may not work for you, but this one is a strong suggestion from personal experience. It’s a really bad idea. I did it once and the speech didn’t go well. It’s hard to jump from your notes in your native language to coherent sentences in another language. Where possible, always make your notes and bullet points in the language that you are going to use. This means that you don’t need to add translation to the list of things that you need to do when you’re already feeling nervous or under pressure.

So, do you have any more tips to add? Let us know in the comments.

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