Public speaking… it’s right up there as number one on the “worst fears” list. Jerry Seinfeld joked that, at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. Whether you love being up in front of an audience, or it sends you into a cold sweat, chances are we all have to do it at some point in our lives.

Last week I found myself having to deliver a presentation as part of a workshop. It’s something I’ve generally avoided during my time as an Executive Assistant. I’m in the cold sweat camp (add in dry mouth, shaky hands, rising sense of dread). This mainly stems from being forced to stand up in front of the class at school and read out homework to sniggering classmates. Or perhaps that time when each child was forced to sing a hymn in front of the whole class by an evil music teacher (awful right?!).

With my school days long behind me, I began to wonder why public speaking still turns so many people into a nervous wreck. In the weeks leading up to the presentation, I did some research on this and received some amazing tips on overcoming fear of public speaking and delivering a really great presentation. Here are my findings…

  • Rehearse that speech inside out – Have a really great structure to your presentation. Break it down into sections and know it off by heart. That way, you’re never going to lose your place and panic. Watch some videos of speakers you admire and try to match their pace and rhythm.
  • Body language – Stand tall, shoulders back and look around the room and make eye contact with people. It genuinely makes you feel and look more confident.
  • Change your mindset – Everything you’re feeling is just thought. A thought can be changed. Someone told me to change my mindset from one of “what will they think of me” to “what can I offer them today”. Nobody is looking at you and waiting for you to mess up – they really don’t give a stuff. They just want to hear what you’re talking about. This realisation does have an impact on nervousness and ground you before anxiety sets in.
  • 7/11 breathing – Essentially this involves breathing in for seven seconds and breathing out for 11. This process tricks your brain into feeling that everything is calm and all is well. The first thing I discovered here is that I can only manage around a 3/5! But the principle is the same. It helps to keep that initial sense of panic under control.
  • Emotional Freedom Tapping – Also known as psychological acupressure, this process involves quite literally ‘tapping’ certain energy points or meridians around your body to release tension. It helps to also use positive affirmations whilst tapping. It may sound a little odd, but I was tapping away for a week! I don’t know why or how it works, but it does! Check it out on YouTube – there are some great guides on there on what to do.
  • Visualisation – Visualising your success is key. If you imagine you’re going to panic and stutter through your speech, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So it’s really important to focus on giving a confident speech. Visualise what you will be wearing, what the room will look like, where you’ll be standing, how you will stand, then see everyone giving you a round of applause afterwards. Change your self-fulfilling prophecy to a positive one.
  • Hypnosis – I downloaded various meditation techniques with positive affirmations about public speaking. I would generally fall asleep listening to them, but I like to think the positive affirmations go into the subconscious mind.

So I tried all of the above and managed to deliver a panic free speech. Which one worked? I’d like to think it was a combination of the techniques and a strong determination to overcome a childhood fear. Try them for yourselves – see what works for you.