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How to overcome the fear of public speaking: Tips to build oratory skills

Does the sight of a podium and mic give you the shivers? Read on and learn how to overcome the fear of public speaking.

Does the sight of a podium and mic give you the shivers? Read on and learn how to overcome the fear of public speaking.

How to overcome the fear of public speaking? The answer lies in practicing and perfecting the do's and don'ts of orating to build strong oratory skills. This post comprehensively encapsulates public speaking tips that you need to remember if anxiety, panic, nervousness and lack of confidence are getting in your way of delivering a good speech in front of a large audience. For clarity, the tips have been divided into 3 categories – Before, During and After your speech.

Public speaking tips: Before the speech

1) Don't draft a complicated speech which is difficult to remember

If you have been handed the responsibility of drafting your speech, make sure your draft is easy to understand and free of incomprehensible jargon that you may eventually fumble with.

It's good to sound intelligent but when you are learning how to overcome the fear of public speaking, it is better to play safe initially.

2) Understand your speech, don't cram it

Whether it is something as long drawn as studying for college or something as simple as remembering a short speech, logic beats cramming in virtually all areas of life. After you have made your first attempts at drafting your speech, understand it and remember the intricacies behind the each paragraph and the topic it is based on.

Cramming and rote learning is only a temporary solution. A small panic attack while you are on the podium could potentially make you forget your lines.

3) Practice your speech until you know it by heart

Once you are happy with the draft and confident about every aspect of it, read your speech again and again until you know it by heart. You should practically be able to rant away even if someone woke you up in the middle of the night and asked you to orate.

4) Time yourself

Timing is a key element of public speaking as speakers are generally allotted a time limit. Whether you are going to speak for 5 minutes or an hour, time your speech to perfection.

Practice with a timer and make sure you finish slightly before the time runs out. Even if it is a few minutes, leaving a buffer for uncertainty is advisable.

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5) Practice a mock speech at the venue

If you have access to the spot at which you will stand while giving the speech, go there and do practice rounds. Patiently take it from top to bottom and don't cut corners while practicing at the venue.

Think of things like where you will stand, where the audience will be seated, will there be light on your face, etc to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Familiarity will boost your comfort and confidence levels on the day of your speech.

6) Record yourself and listen for obvious mistakes

An easy way to spot mistakes in your speech is to listen to yourself. Record a practice speech, right from the introduction to the final words that you utter as you sign off.

Recording can be as easy as hitting a button on your iPhone or any other smart device you own. Play it, go back and play it again until you are absolutely satisfied about the words and voice tone you have used throughout the speech.

7) Practice with a friend: Invite genuine and constructive criticism

The fear of public speaking is often driven by social anxiety and the fear of performing in front of a crowd. Practicing your speech with a friend will allow you be more confident while speaking in front of someone.

Additionally, you should also be open to constructive criticism and allow your friend to point out obvious mistakes or improvements that can be made to make your speech better.

8) Listen to good orators

Listen to good orators like Barack Obama and pick up notes on how they deliver hair-raising speeches in front of thousands. Listen to every word to expand your vocabulary. Also note how they use voice tone modulation and play with pronunciation to their advantage.

Look at their videos to pick up tips on the kind of body language they display while speaking to big crowds. Note the subtle expressions, hand movements, nodding of the head to imply affirmation and various other tricks of the trade. To be the best, you must learn from the best.

Public speaking tips: During the speech

9) Speaking in public: Speak loudly, clearly and slowly

Carry a loud voice as a sign of confidence and so that your audience can hear you. Speak clearly as a sign of knowledge and understanding of what you are talking about. Speak slowly as a sign of calmness and so that your audience can understand you completely.

All the effort and hard work that you put in to drafting a good speech are virtually made redundant if you speak too softly, too fast or mince your words. Loud, clear, slow - Remind yourself about these 3 vital public speaking tips when you walk on to a stage.

10) Don't wear clothes that make you feel uncomfortable

The way you dress has little to do with the way you speak, but has a lot to do with how you feel while delivering a speech.

If public speaking and large audiences make you nervous, make sure that you don't add to your nervousness by wearing clothes that make you feel uncomfortable in the name of fashion.

Depending on the type of speech, type of venue and the type of audience, wear clothes which make you feel at ease. Whether formal or informal, don't go overboard with fashion accessories that can make you feel conscious and could potentially have an adverse effect on your speech.

11) Don't be obliged to interact with your audience unless necessary

The ability to interact with an audience while giving a speech is a skill and asset when it comes to public speaking. But amateur speakers should remember that it is not mandatory to do so.

Unless you are required to go back and forth with your listeners, don't feel obliged to interact with them in the midst of your speech. It will put unnecessary pressure and the fear of being asked a question that you are unable to answer can potentially pin you down like a rock.

12) Keep taking deep breaths

Deep breathing has been widely considered as the easiest way to relax and calm down. Use it as a technique to calm yourself down every time you sense nervousness creeping up your spine while speaking in front of a crowd.

Drawing in large breaths of air will fill your lungs with a fresh burst of oxygen which will immediately trigger a sense of calm.

13) Use deliberate pauses to regain composure

In the midst of a speech if you feel like things are not going the way you had planned, use deliberately placed pauses to recuperate. Pause after making a valid point so that the audience may in fact believe that you are giving them a moment to soak in and understand the words you last spoke.

As you pause, give yourself mental reassurance, take a deep breath, quickly go over your original speech-plan and come back with a bang.

14) Make eye contact with the audience

The purpose behind making eye contact is to merely make the audience think that you are talking to each and every one of them. Scan your eyes across the room and make eye contact with every other person listening to you.

15) Don't assume what the audience is thinking

A critical mistake that an orator can make is to be mentally affected by incorrect assumptions of what the audience is thinking, based on their reactions.

Expert orators have a knack in drawing appropriate tweaks to their strategy by continuously studying the reaction of an audience. This way of deciphering the thoughts of an audience may not be advisable for those learning to deal with the fear of public speaking.

Be on the lookout for obvious and blatant signs of likes or dislikes from the members of the audience. But don't let your mind work overtime in an attempt to tweak your speech according to their reactions. By letting your mind waver into uncharted territory, you risk forgetting your lines or even becoming more nervous.

16) Don't let distractions grab your attention

Blaringly loud cell phones, people getting up from their chairs, people whispering into each others' ears, entry of late comers, camera flashes and smartphones pointed towards you in an apparent bid to tape your speech are some of the common distractions in a public speaking environment.

Take these incidents as granted and train your eyes and ears to ignore such distractions. If you let your senses get distracted by these incidents, you risk the chance of losing grip on your orating.

17) Be cautious before injecting humor into your speech

Unless you are sure that your sense of humor is going to send your audience in fits of laughter, it may be advisable to avoid humor especially in formal environments.

Lame jokes can leave a bad taste and can potentially ruin an otherwise informative session. If you are unsure, check with a friend before you walk on to the stage. Ask if he/she actually finds your jokes funny.

18) Carry flashcards if you can't carry your entire speech

Remember to carry a neat and clean copy of your speech when you go up to the stage. If that is not possible, be sure to carry miniature flashcards which give you paragraph by paragraph reminders of what you are supposed to talk about.

19) Body language and public speaking: Maintain a confident posture throughout your speech

Carrying the right posture can make you look beaming with confidence, even if you are not. Keep a straight back and stand with your shoulders wide apart while delivering your speech.

The audience will invariably judge you and your oratory skills by the levels of confidence you display. Posture is widely considered as the most important and passively assertive component of displaying confidence.

20) Use your hands in moderation

Orators are known to use hands and hand signals as a part of their public speaking routine. If you have the same habit, be sure not to cross the line by making way too many hand movements.

Stay still and use open palms while making positive hand moments at critical junctures of your speech.

21) Don't keep smiling unnecessarily

A smile is an asset when you are in a meet-and-greet situation. However a continuous fake smile is not necessary while speaking in front of the crowd.

Remember that the audience is there to listen to what you speak. It is unlikely that you will get any brownie points or applause for putting up a fake smile throughout your speech.

Public speaking tips: After the speech

22) Reflect on your performance and introspect

Tape your speech if possible and reflect on your performance to answer questions like - What could you have done more to address the fear of public speaking? Did you speak too fast? Are there any typical situations that trigger nervousness? Did you maintain proper eye contact? Did you display a confident posture? What could you have done to improve your performance?

Find out the answers to these questions as you embark on a journey of self improvement. As you learn from mistakes over time, speaking confidently in front of an audience will come naturally.


Max on October 07, 2012:

Nice hub, keep going on.

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on September 12, 2012:

I grew up shy but my mom always made me speak in church to get me used to people. Public speaking comes quite naturally to me even though when I think about it , it is frightening.

You give some useful tips. It always helps to listen to great speeches and hear them back to inspire you, also for stylistic purposes to see what you want to borrow from them. And a timer is essential so you don't ramble and also helping to cut time down. Very useful hub!

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