There was a time in my life when the words “class presentation” brought an indescribable, heart-paralyzing fear that rattled my body into an episode of nervy and anxious trembling.
I vividly remember a horrifying experience in high school when I had to recite a “Mean Girls.” This was the awful moment that shaped my aversion to public speaking. Here’s what happened:
“Oh my god! I forgot my lines — what do I do next?!” I thought.
I panicked. I started hyperventilating.
All my classmates shifted in their seats uncomfortably — they were wrought with second-hand embarrassment
I stood there, helplessly. My classmates sat there helplessly as well. I could just see the “I wish we could help you!” look in their eyes.
I hated that look. I felt pathetic.
For the rest of the day, I walked around like a zombie with the pallor of someone who’d just seen a ghost.
But another 4 years later, my stance on public speaking would drastically change — this is all thanks to an INCREDIBLE speech professor I had in college.
Truth be told, I didn’t expect much from her at first. She looked like she was on wrinkle away from being 6 feet under ground in a graveyard. She had to be 100 years old — at least.
But little did I know that I would learn a wealth of information that helped me not only become an amazing public speaker, but also the confident, articulate, well-spoken woman I am today. So, ladies & gentlemen, without further ado — HOW TO OVERCOME YOUR FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING.
I. THE PREPARATION PHASE
A. SLANT YOUR PRESENTATION TO DISCUSS WHAT YOU ENJOY TALKING ABOUT
Whether you’re doing a class or business presentation, it really sucks big hairy balls to discuss something you hate talking about. So while you’re drafting up your speech, discover a way to find a TINGE of enjoyment in what you’re talking about
Here’s an example:
One time I had to do a presentation on behavioral psychology (It’s basically the science of what causes humans and animals to change their habits). Now, I could bore myself — and my classmates to death — with a flat explanation of terms like “stimulus-reponse theory,” “bystander effect” and “aversion” therapy…
The Wrong Way: “So Aversion Therapy, first used in 1932, is a treatment in behavioral science where a bad habit is “conditioned” to disappear by associating it with an aversive stimulus.”
Instead, when you’re drafting your speech, find a way to incorporate what you love in the presentation. For example. I love food (I REALLY LOVE FOOD). The result? Take a look…
The RIGHT Way: “So let’s say you have an addiction to chocolate cake, right? In aversion therapy, the behavioral scientist will show you a picture of chocolate cake and then immediately show a morbidly obese man on the brink of death thereafter. And he would continue this pattern: Chocolate cake. Clogged Artery….Chocolate Cake. Diabetes-affected foot. And so on and so forth! So basically, aversion therapy is about conditioning your client to decrease an undesirable behavior by pairing it with aversive stimuli. :)”
This way, you’re engaging and having fun because you’re talking about what you love talking about.
B. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE DON’T READ OFF A PIECE OF PAPER WORD-FOR-WORD
This is literally the most important thing I’ve learned from my college professor. She told us, “No papers are allowed to be held in this class.”
Me: WHAT?! What am I gonna do?! I’m really good at reading off a piece of paper and then looking up from it every once in a while to show a “connection” to the audience.
My professor: No. In all my years of teaching, anyone who has ever read off a long piece of paper never got above an 85. It’s robotic, it’s stiff, and it’s just plain flat.
**This class, I thought, is the scariest thing I’ve ever faced**
My professor: BUT — I will allow you to use index cards. JUST with headlines on your speech to guide you and jolt your memory on what you will talk about next.
C. DON’T MEMORIZE ANYTHING PER SE…JUST REMEMBER AN ORGANIZED LIST OF TOPICS & SUBTOPICS YOU PLAN TO SPEAK ABOUT
Don’t memorize anything.
“What?” you say with your nose crinkled up in confusing.
*Bops you over the head with an index card* “I SAID…don’t memorize anything.”
The reason why many of us freak out in the first place, besides the fact that all eyes are on you, is the fear of forgetting. And what happens when you memorize a speech word-for-word is a whole host of disasters:
a. You go blank
b. Because you were basically a robot that programmed yourself to regurgitate a large set of text, you now don’t know what to do when you forget it.
c. You panic.
d. You keep everyone waiting while you try to recover the large set of memorized text in your head.
e. Because you’re so conscious of what everyone is thinking while you’re standing there thinking, you freak out even more…
f. And so on and so forth.
That’s why memorization sucks. The better way? Remember an organized, sequential list of topics and subtopics and then speak semi-extemporaneously on each bullet point. And, most importantly, PRACTICE like nobody’s business!
It’s kind of like telling your favorite funny story at the dinner table. You know it so well. You’ve told it so many times. But you didn’t use the SAME exact words — verbatim — each time you told the story, did you? Nope. You delivered the story — beginning, middle and end — without needing to memorize every single word in between.
D. ALWAYS START OFF YOUR SPEECHES WITH A BANG
Go big or go home, baby! My 100-year-old teacher said “I don’t care about your name, where you’re from, your age, your blood count — no one cares. Start off your presentation with something fun!”
THE WRONG WAY: “H-hello. I’m Johnny Kimble. And I’m from Dallas, Texas. And I’m hear to talk about the tabloidization of news.” SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOZE FEST!!!
THE RIGHT WAY: “Isn’t it funny how we all complain about how we’re sick about seeing The Kardashians all over news media outlets, but we just can’t escape them? Don’t blame The New York Daily News, ladies and gentlemen. Blame the internet! The truth is, Kim K and her bootay will get more clicks — and in turn — more CHA-CHING from the advertisers. Let’s talk the tabloidization of news, people!”
In this way, you’re being relatable, conversational, and grabbing the audience’s attention right off the bat.
II. THE DELIVERY
A. The Friendly-Face Theory
Everyone has their own technique to find comfort in delivering their speech to a seemingly scary group of piercing, gawking eyes. I’ll share mine with you — find a friendly face.
So what I would do is, while I’m looking out into the audience, I would find a friendly, calming face (This is the person that looks like they’d bake you a batch of cookies on your birthday and would tell you that they’re “huggers”). Now that I’ve found my “friendly face,” I would start this routine where I would look around the audience faces, and then fall back on my fulcrum — the friendly face — and pretend that he or she is saying “You’re doing great” with his or her eyes. And then I would restart the process — look around, look around, look around. Friendly face.
You can even ask a real friend to sit in the audience for this exercise.
It works for me because knowing that at least one person is cheering for you is very relaxing for me.
B. YOUR PRESENCE: NO SLOUCHING, SPEAK WITH ASSURANCE, DON’T WEAR “LOUD” CLOTHES
One day, my near-death professor told me that my dangling earrings were “too loud” and, as a result, too “distracting.” She said she couldn’t hear a thing I was saying.
Obviously my earrings we not some sort of weird gizmo that played Taylor Swift songs while I spoke or anything, but they did shine like two disco balls about to start off an awesome Soul Train line to the Bee Gees.
They were cool. At least, I thought so…
But all the audience could focus on are my damn earrings. Adults have a short attention span. Not because we’re immature or anything, but because we have other stressful sh** on our minds and we’re tired. So anything that’s more entertaining will prevail.
Along with not wearing loud clothes, no slouching and speak with conviction. If you sound like you believe in what you’re saying, others will, too.
C. PEOPLE THINK MISTAKES ARE ENDEARING
This is what’s NOT going to happen if you make a mistake:
Did you stumble a little bit? So what. Did a volcano explode? No. Did an earthquake rattle the whole building? No. Did a Tsunami hit? Nope. Did the audience start throwing tomatoes at you? NO! In fact, they’re probably thinking, “OH THANK GOD. He made a mistake! He’s HUMAN! :)”
Secondly, sure they might be “looking” at you, but they’re not judging you. In fact, they don’t care about you. They’re probably thinking about eating. Or their lovers. Or something that pissed them off that morning. If this is for a class presentation, it’s even worse — they’re reciting their OWN lines over and over again in their head while not giving a single rats a** about what you’re saying.
D. THE ONLY THING THAT WILL GET THE BETTER OF YOU IS FEAR
Nothing will get the better of you in public speaking — just fear. Not a mistake, not a stutter, not a mispronunciation. None of that. Because you can always get back on track. Fear, on the other hand, can consume you and eat you alive while you’re in front of a group of listening peers. Why let it? I’ve found that the best way to combat fear is to trick my mind into believing that there’s not one thing that could happen on that stage that could break me. And if I do make mistakes, I embrace them. Plus, now I’ve gained more likability from the audience because flaws are relatable.
So these steps are exactly what I did to shed my paralyzing fear of public speaking. And it actually worked, with much credit to my awesome, 100-year-old college speech professor. Good luck y’all. 🙂