Top 5 Tips to make public speaking a little less scary

 In Columns

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s talk about something scary. I get incredibly nervous when public speaking or doing media interviews. I feel my heart racing, I get a bit dizzy, palms sweating, and occasionally my mind would go blank, just before I was going to speak. Panic inducing, yes. And, not ideal for someone in PR and a media spokesperson. But, don’t fear, with some practice and fine-tuning, I was able to overcome these challenges, and so will you.

The fear of public speaking (or Glossophobia) is actually a quite common form of anxiety. It is believed to affect up to 75% of the population, in some form. So, I’m not alone – and neither are you.

And, there’s actual science to back-up this type of anxiety. The body’s limbic system is activated when it is threatened. It’s this flight or fight response that kicks in when you take the podium, and scan the room for the nearest exit. Do I fight, flee or persevere?

My first real big public speaking opportunity was a huge flop. And, I mean huge. I froze in front of a packed room of 400 people at a Harvard Model United Nations university conference in Boston. I made zero sense. And I was embarrassed beyond belief. I knew what I wanted to say, my brain and body just couldn’t overcome my fear.

But, I persevered, by putting these tips to work. It’s my hope that some tips that helped me through public speaking challenges will also help you. And, by happy coincidence, they spell the acronym HAPPY to ease with recall.

1. BE HUMAN

Be human and be relatable. It builds credibility and creates connections with your audience. It’s important to know your content inside and out, but don’t feel the need to memorize. It comes across as cold and distant like a zombie on Halloween.

2. BE AUTHENTIC (AND AUDIENCE-FOCUSED)

Don’t come across as a know-it-all. Even if you know your content. 2021 has been a defining year where the ‘trust bubble’ has burst internationally. Generally speaking, people trust their sources of information less than they ever have– whether that be governments, media or online content. Being authentic and fact-based will increase your credibility, increasing your audience connection.

3. BE PREPARED

Being prepared is the most critical point to remember on this list. It’s incredibly important to be on message. Create a 3-4-point message box of important themes and concepts that you want to convey to your audience, and stay within it. Feel free to use proof points to supplement the content of your core themes.

The message box is ultimately the most critical key points you want your audiences to take away.

It’s important to remember that the average person’s short-term memory can only retain seven pieces of information. So, make your points count. Limit the clutter.

4. PRACTICE

Practice may not make perfect, but it will provide some reassurance. My personal approach was to always practice key talking points for media interviews for about 30 minutes, to ensure that I could seamlessly move through content and bridge to key points for challenging questions.

For longer form presentations or speaking roles, I would generally spend 1-2 hours reviewing core themes, to the point I was no longer reading content from PowerPoint slides, but more so seeing slides as content prompts.

Just remember, the more content you include on presentation slides (PowerPoint or Keynote) the more you’ll use it as a crutch.

5. Be YOU

Be the best version of you. If you’re generally laid back, then do that. If you’re a bit more tightly wound, that’s okay too. Don’t try and create a Frankenstein version of you, it isn’t worth it.

That’s it for me this week. Think big, do good, and be bold. Happy Halloween!

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