The fear of public speaking is one of the most quintessential first-world problems out there, yet it is still very real. Glossophobia is very real. The pandemic has forced everyone into their homes, and public speaking no longer happens exclusively in public thanks to Zoom. Whether you’re trying to get over a crippling phobia or just looking for ways to improve your speech patterns, here are a few tips to help you work on your public speaking, whether you’re actually in public or not.
Try Winging It
So much anxiety about public speaking can be generated from over-preparing. If you make too many notecards and plan too restrictively, it can really hurt your speech. The next time you have to deliver a speech of some kind, try a little improv.
The more you get accustomed to speaking off the top of your head with a loose structure, the more comfortable you’ll be with your public speaking in general. Is there a more liberating sentiment than throwing caution to the wind? Try just saying “Screw it!” You might just find it to be quite helpful.
Practice In The Mirror
Now this one sounds very corny, but it can really come in handy. If you deliver your speech to the audience of your reflection, you can learn a lot about your public speaking. Focus on your body language and mannerisms and adjust them as you go. The mirror can’t judge you; only you can.
Build Your Confidence In Other Areas
Weaponize hubris. Have you ever seen someone who struts around with such obvious confidence that you just know that they think they’re incredible? A confident person brings that self-assured feeling into all aspects of their life. They stroll onto a basketball court and think they’re LeBron. They’ll correct filmmakers on Twitter about their own work.
While you don’t want to be that person specifically, improving your self-image in other ways can go a long way to improving your comfort with public speaking. There are immediate ways of achieving this, such as wearing your best outfit the day of the speech, whether you’re giving it in person or on Zoom. Look good, feel good.
If you work on other ways of improving your self-esteem long term, you will start to feel much safer in your own skin. Pursue fulfilling relationships and hobbies. Try to find a sense of purpose. Work on yourself as a person, and your public speaking will follow.
There’s a reason athletes and musicians warm-up before they have to go out and perform. Why is delivering a speech any different? There are many good speech warmups you can do to loosen up your vocal chords to improve the tone and flow of your speech. Plus, don’t underestimate the placebo effect. Even if the warmups don’t make all the difference physiologically, just the knowledge that you did them might trick your brain into a positive impact.
Become An Expert On Your Topic
Knowledge is security. If you reach a level of familiarity with your topic that makes it possible to speak completely off the top of your head with authority, it opens up a few things for you. For one, it frees you from the dependence on notecards and visual aids. If you have a deep understanding of your topic, you won’t have to fumble through your notes or look over your shoulder in order to verify your information.
For another, it allows your speech to become more conversational. It’s a safe assumption that we are at our most charismatic when we are just conversing comfortably with people. No preparation, no script, just life. If you put in the work beforehand to really become an expert on your topic, you’ll be able to reach this level of ease when you deliver your speech.
This exercise is similar to practicing in the mirror, but it allows you to really step away from yourself and critique your speech patterns as an objective observer. It’s a common practice in stand-up comedy to record your sets to critique later. You can pause and rewind in order to focus on so many things that you would otherwise miss. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the sound of your own voice.
This may be the most difficult one to manage, but it is critical. We know how anxiety tends to work. We get in our own heads about the smallest things, and those things tend to spiral. The more you think negatively about your upcoming speech, the more your anxiety will grow. The worse your anxiety gets, the harder it will be to stay calm and deliver the goods. You have to actively remind yourself to keep a positive attitude. Pat yourself on the back when things go well, and try not to dwell on them when they don’t. Don’t listen to Yoda. Trying is all we can do.
Breath is such an integral part of public speaking. You need to make sure you’re breathing properly for a couple reasons. First, if you don’t remember to breathe, you’ll find yourself talking way too quickly for the audience to follow, but if you breathe too much your entire speech will stagnate.
Second, breathing is essential when it comes to anxiety management. You simply must remember to breathe deeply when anxiety strikes. Practicing your breathing beforehand will help your pace as well as your nerves.
Practice In Front Of Someone You Trust
Practicing in front of the mirror or on tape is great, but ultimately it’s still only you that’s giving the criticism. Find someone you trust to whom you can deliver your speech. They can give you all kinds of helpful feedback that you likely would have missed about yourself. Plus, so much of the anxiety that comes with public speaking manifests itself because of the fear of being judged by others, so gathering some idea of how you are being perceived by others can help you stay ahead of the curve.
Find Your Voice
The last tip for today is to learn how to be yourself. Integrating your own mannerisms and humor into professional speaking can be quite difficult. How do you water yourself down to acceptable levels?
Think about who you really are and lean into it. We’re all unique in different ways, and instead of assimilating to what you perceive is social decorum, embrace what makes you special and never let that go.