According to Psychology Today, approximately one-fourth of people today report experiencing a specific fear of public speaking. This phenomenon, also known as glossophobia, can have serious personal and professional consequences for people unable to overcome its effects. For example, someone may turn down a promotion because the new position requires regular public speaking. Or someone may opt out of presenting a paper they’re very proud of at a conference if they feel ill at the thought of getting onstage in front of hundreds of people. The examples are endless.
There comes a point in many people’s lives when there’s simply no choice—it’s time to give a presentation. And though you can visualize how accomplished you’ll feel as soon as the applause begins, the challenge is preparing and delivering your talk in the best way possible.
Here are a handful of strategies for overcoming stage fright before and during a presentation.
Strategies for Overcoming Stage Fright Before a Presentation
Know Your Content, Venue and Audience
Nothing is more anxiety-inducing than not knowing, well, anything. How can you visualize your speech if you know nothing about the venue in which you’ll be delivering it? How can you make sure your content is relevant if you don’t know the makeup of the audience in attendance? Questions like these demonstrate how important it is to have as much intel as possible about everything related to your presentation.
As one communications coach reminds us, remember the six Ps: Proper, Preparation and Practice, Prevent Poor Performance. Channel your nerves into preparing for your talk.
Ask Your Audience Questions
For many, the most intimidating aspect of giving a presentation is facing the audience alone. So, it makes sense that turning part of your presentation into a conversation would alleviate some of that pressure. Incorporating technology like an audience response system allows speakers to poll their audience in real time, asking them to contribute questions or answers using any web-enabled device.
Facilitating a two-way dialogue is an excellent way to build rapport with your audience, which also tends to help calm stage fright. Plus, presenters can use poll results to direct their presentation in an impactful direction. This type of organic, crowdsourced experience tends to make the entire interaction feel more authentic for all parties involved, breaking down the barrier between “speaker” and “listener” for the better.
Memorize the First Few Lines
Memorizing your entire speech—though it can seem tempting when you’re in the preparation stages—will only serve to make it sound canned. The last thing you want is for people to feel as if they could have listened to an audiobook to get the same information; you want to deliver a dynamic presentation that has vitality and a healthy dose of the human element.
However, you can get away with memorizing the first few lines. In fact, this simple trick will help you start off strong when you’re experiencing peak nerves. Instead of pulling an opener out of your mental hat, so to speak, you can fall back on the few sentences you know by heart, which will ease you into the rest of your presentation.
Practice Positive Body Language
Lastly, practice positive body language from the moment you start working on your presentation. Here’s what the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has to say about conquering stage fright for those not so keen on public speaking: “Stand or sit in a self-assured, confident posture. Remain warm and open and make eye contact.”
Although it may feel like your thoughts are evident to the world, people can only see how you act, now what you’re thinking. So convey confidence with your body so your mind can follow.
These strategies are meant to help you overcome stage fright before you give a presentation. With a little practice and a few deep breaths, you’ll be well on your way to knocking it out of the park.