“Is it just me, or does public speaking make everyone fear they’re going to sh*t themselves?”

This quote perfectly illustrates the general sentiment about public speaking. But it is a fact of life that at some point you are going to have to do one. It could be a presentation at work, a best man’s speech or you might have won an award.

Whatever the occasion, on hearing the news that you must do a speech the common reaction is fear. This article will not focus on why you feel this way (you can read about the psychology behind the fear (also known as glossophobia) in this great article). It will focus instead give you tips on how you can over overcome this fear and what to do to give a great presentation.

1. Trick your mind

If you want to change the outcome you need to change your behaviour. This can involve doing things that feel a bit silly but please go with me on this, it really works.

When you are about to speak you naturally start to feel the emotions of fear and anxiety. These “aroused emotions” cause the cortisol in your body to skyrocket, you start to sweat, and your hands get clammy. Excitement is another type of “aroused emotion” and you can trick your mind into substituting the negative for a positive. How? Before your presentation, start telling yourself (in your mind or out loud if you can) that you are feeling excited. Think about how athletes look when they win a gold medal – imitate them. Put your arms above your head and jump up and down. I guarantee this method will clear your mind and leave you feeling more positive about your presentation.

2. Remember the communication orientation

What is a presentation? Simply put, it is a sharing of information. The fear of public speaking normally occurs when we see the audience as judging our performance. This simply isn’t true. Just as you want a presenter to do well, the audience wants you to do well and will forgive any minor hiccups should they occur.

Dr. Theo Tsaousides has made a very useful distinction. He notes that we need to see a presentation not as a performance but as an act of communication, an orientation which is a much kinder option for yourself. In this communication option, the sole focus should be on your wish to express your ideas. See your audience as you would see a friend or a colleague to whom you are trying to tell a story.

3. Preparation

This may be too obvious a point for some, but you have no idea how many people I helped with their presentation that have done zero preparation. And then they wonder why they feel so anxious about presenting! Even the most confident person with a low level of anxiety will start panicking before a presentation if they have done no preparation.

Here are some key tips for preparing to present:

  • Start as early as you can
  • Decide what information you want to convey to your audience and make sure you define key terms and concepts at the outset of your presentation
  • Practice giving your speech as much as you can so you can hone your performance – do it anywhere you can –in front of the mirror, with someone you trust, to a video camera
  • Do not learn your presentation by heart – you will be tempted to recite the information like a robot, and you won’t know what to do if you lose your place
  • Get familiar with your venue – can you visit it beforehand? If yes, do it! Do you know what facilities they have? Can you test them out in advance? What if they don’t work? What is your Plan B? Have the answer to these questions and you will be much less anxious

4. Drink water

I could have included this within the previous point, but it is so important it needs its own one. Often when we are in a stressful situation, we hear the advice: drink water. But why? Because studies have shown that being just half a litre dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a natural steroid hormone that is released by the body in response to stress. The more dehydrated you are, the more stressed you feel, and you are probably already feeling stressed enough about your presentation.

I’m not saying drink litres and litres of water because needing to pee during an entire presentation is not a pleasant feeling (trust me)! Just be conscious of your hydration levels on the day of your presentation because it can make a difference to how you feel.

5. Body language

People are your mirror so if you begin your presentation with your shoulders almost touching your feet your audience will feel awkward too.

For the whole day of the presentation and particularly when you arrive at the venue, convey confidence with your body. Stand up straight, have an open posture, and smile. It is amazing what these little changes can do for your confidence. Just like you tricked your mind with positive talk, use your body too.

Use your hands to convey important points. If you rest your arms alongside your body like a vegetable, you will have no chance of persuading your audience or getting them engaged.

Finally, maintain eye contact. Not in a weird way, obviously, but I cannot stress enough the importance of giving eye contact your audience eye contact. By looking your audience in the eye, you make them part of the conversation, they become part of your team.

I hope you find these tips useful and I want to finish with one final piece of advice: have fun. It is not often that we have everyone’s attention and that you get to share whatever information you like. It your time to shine and I know you will if you follow my tips above. Please let me know your presentation goes and if you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section below.