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    Three Steps to Stress-Free Public Speaking

    Tuesday, December 04, 2012

    Some people actually love to speak in public. They welcome “stage fright” as just an adrenaline rush, and being on stage as simply a chance to help others. For them, public speaking isn’t really about being the center of attention, but rather the sharing of information.

    Of course, other people with just as much to share hate to be on stage. While it’s an exaggeration that most people fear public speaking more than death (see “Joyful Public Speaking”), anxiety in front of an audience is certainly real. Fortunately, there are three good tactics for minimizing your fear while maximizing your communication: (1) Prepare, (2) Rehearse, and (3) Focus.

    1. Prepare

    Pythagorus said, “The beginning is half the whole”; nowadays we say “Well begun is half done.” In either case, the point is that preparing your message ahead of time helps take the focus off yourself and onto the information. That shift alone is a great stress reducer.

    Depending upon your personality and the speaking situation, you may decide to prepare a full speech, an outline with topic sentences, or just a list of points to cover.

    • A full speech is best for formal occasions, when every word of every sentence is important.
    • A topic-sentence outline is good for semiformal occasions, when you want to make several specific points but can extemporize from there. (PowerPoint presentations often follow this sort of format.)
    • A list of points is best for an informal occasion, when you will be speaking casually but need to make sure you don’t forget any details.

    2. Rehearse

    Rehearsal and stage fright have an inverse relationship. The more you practice, the less nervous you’ll be just before your presentation. To get the most from your rehearsal, employ the following.

    • Use a voice recorder to capture your rehearsal. Listen to the recording and note any points that would benefit from more emphasis, as well as places where you may stumble. If necessary, change your presentation to improve the former and avoid the latter.
    • Practice at least a couple of times before a mirror. This will help you to perfect physical gestures and gain confidence.

    3. Focus

    Once you’re on stage, don’t rush right into your presentation. Take a moment to get ready.  

    • Focus on your breathing. A few calming breaths will help you start right and keep a reasonable pace.
    • Focus on friendly faces. While breathing, glance over the crowd (if you can see them; if not, imagine friends sitting out there) and smile. This will help to put your audience at ease as well as yourself.
    • Focus on your details. Remember, the point is to share information. The more you can focus on that message, the less self-conscious you will feel about speaking.

    Conclusion

    Preparing, rehearsing, and focusing are pretty much guaranteed to reduce your stress and make your public speaking shine. For practice, consider joining your local Toastmasters club. Membership is even a résumé enhancer.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by Evil Erin