Public speaking is an inevitable and vital part of many career paths and different lifestyle choices. Whether you need to make a presentation to the company board of directors, pitch an idea to your colleagues, or lecture to a hall filled with eager students, being able to speak confidently and clearly to a room full of people is a great skill to have. So, how do you go about building confidence around that task? The answer lies below.
Practice Makes Perfect
We’ve all heard this a hundred times before, but practice really is the key to completing a task successfully. Depending on your life experience up to this point, you may not have had much chance to rehearse speaking in front of a large audience. It’s a good idea to start off small, perhaps speaking to a room filled with no more than 7 to 10 friends, family members or colleagues. If you find it too intimidating to begin in front of people you know, try volunteering to speak at your next PTA conference, community meeting, or team brief at work. The more times you conquer that initial fear and stand up in front of a crowd to speak, the more it will begin to feel normal and lose that anxiety-inducing edge.
Once you’re a little more used to what is, let’s face it, an unnatural situation to be in, you can take things one step further. Depending on how you react to pressure, you could jump straight in at the deep end and sign up to your local comedy club’s open mic night. However, this approach does carry a high risk of failure. Alternatively, you could ask to lead the next team meeting in the office, or be project manager for an upcoming presentation. By gradually increasing the size and significance of the congregations you’re speaking in front of, you will slowly start to grow your confidence in doing so.
Tap into Your Competitive Side
Every career involves an element of competition, whether you’re aiming to beat your colleagues to the next big promotion or simply want to outdo your own achievements from last year. However, some jobs have more obvious competitive aspects than others. For example, professional athletes, poker players and e-sports team members all make their living primarily through organised competitions within their specialist field. Such a highly pressurised environment, where the results of the day are what matter more than anything, holds many similarities to a public speaking engagement. Whilst most speaking doesn’t involve a directly competitive element, you can learn valuable lessons from the world of professional competitions.
Take gaming; this is a career that can earn dedicated players big bucks, whether they play live or online. Success requires nerves of steel, the ability to read others, and the confidence to stick to your own convictions. It can also mean cultivating fast reaction times and a sharp mind. Some of these qualities are beneficial in other areas and are easily transferable too.
If you want to improve your confidence before a big speaking engagement, try taking part in casual competitions. It could be something as simple as pitting your PB against other runners on Nike+ Run Club, sampling a few of the games over at Poker Stars Casino or logging into an MMORPG like World of Warcraft. The more you play, the more you’ll learn the relevant skills you’ll need to handle a big speaking event but in a low-risk environment.
Take a Breath, Take a Bow
Two very important things to remember when attempting public speaking are: be calm and be grateful. Though you may feel anything but calm before attempting an important public speaking engagement, you need to trick your mind and body into thinking you are. This can be achieved through concentrating on your breathing. If your body is not receiving enough oxygen, you can start to feel breathless and panicky, further increasing your anxiety. However, if you’re able to take smooth, deep breaths before, during and after your speech, you’ll not only keep your body happy but you’ll convince your brain that you’re in a comfortable, danger-free environment too. This is essential for making sure that your speaking goes to plan.
As well as this, remember how you feel about being given this public speaking opportunity. Is it lucky? Thankful? Excited? Proud? You could also be feeling negative emotions such as fear of failure and uncertainty about your own suitability for the task, but make the decision to concentrate on the positive emotions. Chances are, you’re grateful to be given the chance to speak to your audience and put forward the ideas included in your speech or presentation. Make sure your audience are aware of this fact and that you are appreciative of it too. However nervous you feel about speaking in front of a crowd, remember that it is a pleasure and a privilege to do so.