I Just Don’t Want to Look Bad

It’s a refrain we hear from our public speaking and spokesperson training clients. At the core of this sentiment is a fear of being judged, of making a mistake, of feeling shame and embarrassment, and of being perceived as less than or incompetent. 

How to overcome the fear of public speaking and become a confident speaker starts with your mindset. The most successful speakers are excellent communicators, who understand that it is not about you but about serving your audience. Here are a few things to consider when trying to enhance your presentation ability.

Understand The Purpose

One of the most important things is to understand why you are doing a presentation.

  • What do you hope will be different for your audience?
  • Will they have new knowledge?
  • Will they have a new skill?
  • Will they be inspired to hire you?
  • Will they be motivated to make some sort of change?

Without an understanding of what you can bring to your audience that also serves your needs, you may not get the results you hope to achieve.

Broadcasting vs. Conversing

When approaching making a presentation or a pitch, most people start with what they feel they want to say.  They act like a television broadcaster blasting their ideas instead of taking the time to understand what the audience needs and ask, “What about what I want to share will resonate with my listeners? 

Whether you are speaking to an audience of two or 2,000, shifting the focus from broadcasting your message to conversing with your audience will put you on a path to engagement and connection. And that means asking your audience questions. 

I often begin public speaking workshops by asking, “How many of you enjoy public speaking?”

This usually generates uncomfortable laughter as they raise their hands to indicate they don’t enjoy it. 

Then I ask, what makes them feel that way. For a large audience, I might ask for a show of hands or use interactive presentation software to capture the feelings, and in smaller groups, we ask people to tell us or have them write their thoughts on sticky notes that we post. Not only is this a good icebreaker but it also provides useful information that helps me create a workshop that addresses their needs and creates an environment where people feel comfortable.

Overcoming the fear of public speaking can take time and practice. Start by having conversations with your peers about the information you want to convey and see what questions they have that you can prompt your audience with.

Do Your Homework  

The real work of presenting is not from the podium but before the pitch, the speech, or the panel.  Take the time to learn about who will be in the room.  Look at websites, social media, and marketing materials to understand what you can bring of value to your audience. Learn about the individuals and the industry or sector.

Be Present

Pay attention to your audience’s reaction.  I once sat in on a pitch where the presenter was trying to get new business and had managed to have 30 company leaders in the room to hear his ideas. After his fifth slide, the company president asked a question, and instead of answering the question, the presenter said he wanted to get through all of his slides and then answer the question. 

At that point, he lost the group and lost the business. The company president was engaged and wanted to have a conversation. The slides were props to support the content, not the end goal.

In larger groups, it’s harder to gauge audience sentiment, especially if you are on a large stage and the audience is in darkness.  There are techniques such as using interactive software or polling your audience before the presentation that can help you get a sense of what is or isn’t working.

These tools for receiving real-time feedback help get a sense of how the presentation is going, but they can also engage your audience and keep them captivated.

Overcoming the fear of public speaking is a mindset that, as a speaker, you are in service to your audience. This approach will enable you to be more effective and confident in getting your point across to any audience. If you are looking to equip your team with the tools to overcome their fear of public speaking, Wainger Group offers communication workshops where we can address these fears head-on in a safe environment.