By Madeline Schwarz

Have you ever passed up an opportunity because it required presenting? It’s easy to think that public speaking is a skill that passed you by.

Would you believe me if I told you that that public speaking is something that can be learned?

It’s okay if you said no…I would have, too! It took me well into adulthood to realize that it is absolutely a skill that can be learned.

It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights had I discovered sooner that this commonplace fear was a solvable problem, something you can pick up through practice, like knitting or softball.

I want to address several misconceptions about public speaking where I see people stumble, and give some hard, fast skills you can use to get past them.

Getting over my fears of public speaking was probably the most liberating experience of my adult life. Here’s what I have learned:

You don’t need to be an extrovert to speak with impact.

Introverts can be great speakers. In fact they’re often more powerful because they use their superior listening skills and observant nature to read the audience.

You might be shy, you might not like where your skills are today, you might even think you’re a terrible public speaker, but finding a safe place to practice can help you discover your strengths.

If you’ve watched a lot of TED talks, you might think you need to walk around and make giant gestures, do the things that you see speakers do on big stages.

While these aren’t bad ideas if you’re already comfortable on stage, these are not the things to focus on if you’re just getting started. It is possible to give a captivating talk standing in one place using just your voice and facial expressions.

Your talk doesn’t need to be perfect.

It’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to forget what you were going to say, it’s okay to be human.

People often get tripped up because they think public speaking needs to be really serious. They’re so focused on appearing professional that they’re stiff and robotic and forget to bring their personality to presentations.

At the end of the day, you’re talking to other people, and when you remember that you’re talking to other humans, it makes presentations more natural, more conversational, and more fun.

How can you apply these ideas to feel more confident in your own presentations?

[Related: Six Tips for Managing Presentation Butterflies]

1) Practice, practice, practice.

Practice is the number one thing that will help you feel more comfortable and confident in your presentations. But people don’t do it, because:

  • There’s not enough time.
  • They’re intimidated.
  • Practicing feels awkward.
  • They’re afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of their colleagues.
  • They’re not sure that practice is going to help.
  • They hate public speaking, so they avoid it before the presentation, have an out-of-body experience and then pretend it never happened.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Practicing in front of colleagues in nerve racking. Presenting for coworkers is often harder than presenting to clients. That’s why I have a host of practice techniques you can use at home in your living room.

The most important thing is to practice out loud.

Break down your practice into chunks. Block fifteen minutes a day for three days before your presentation and do a run through out loud.

It will make a world of difference if you’re not searching for the words for the first time in the big meeting.

2) Know your why.

It is so much easier to give a good presentation when you know why you’re talking in the first place.

Decide at the outset what you want to accomplish. What’s the main message you want the audience to walk away with?

When you know your objective, you can direct all your content to that goal, and it will help you stay on track, even when you’re nervous.

[Related: What is “The What?”]

3) Remember to breathe.

When people are nervous, they often forget to breathe. They stand up and start speaking before they’ve taken a breath, and as a result, they swallow their opening words.

If your voices quivers when you’re nervous, if you talk fast, if you have trouble projecting, focus on breathing. Pausing and breathing allows you to collect your thoughts, gain your composure and start strong.

This might be hard to believe today, but being terrified of standing up and talking in front of other people is something that can change. It’s not going to happen overnight, but with consistent practice and the right tools, you can learn how to be clear and confident in your presentations.

Use these tips to stay present in the moment, and remember: No matter how you feel about your skills today, it does not need to be an indication of how you’ll feel tomorrow, next week, or next year.

[Related: Why Your PowerPoint Presentations Stink (No Offense)]

Madeline Schwarz teaches professionals how to articulate their thoughts, communicate the value of their work, and share their ideas in ways their teammates and clients understand. She facilitates workshops on presentation skills and team communication, teaches a small group class called Speak with Impact, and works with clients one-on-one to build presence and leadership skills.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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