Smashed it!

My journey to becoming a more confident public speaker

Glossophobia is the scientific term for those scared of public speaking. According to the internet, 75% of adults fear public speaking to some extent — 10% of which are terrified of it.

Those are some scary figures. But when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. We are social creatures by nature, and most of us don’t have any problems speaking to our closed social circles or colleagues. However, we have been conditioned to judge ourselves, we commit ourselves to high standards. As such, delivering a prepared, expected speech is another beast altogether.

When we speak with our friends, we do so to engage in conversation — because we want to. There is absolutely no pressure to perform or educate. When delivering a speech, however, a new word comes into the equation — expectation. Suddenly, there is an expectation to deliver something of value; our audience expects to hear you talk about something useful or informative. Unfortunately, this adds unwanted pressure — the side effect of which is stress, anxiety and general discomfort prior to delivering the talk.

Like that 75%, I’ve always struggled with nerves before speaking in front of a number of people. Speaking publically or presenting isn’t something I do day in day out, but I see it as an important skill for work and life. I mean, it's our primary mode of communication, so why neglect it? Ironically though, I enjoy the process of preparing a talk, and when I get over that initial ‘fear’ barrier, its something I actively like doing and gain a lot of gratification from.

For the past few months, I’ve been making a conscious effort to get over that anxiety, and through a combination of research and speaking to friends and colleagues, I’ve found that these golden rules have genuinely helped make me a more confident speaker:

You are your own worst critic — Yep, that's right. The only person ‘testing’ or criticising your presentation is yourself! Your mind will always come up with reasons why your delivery isn’t good enough, or your words sound funny. The reality is though, it's all in your head. No-one in your audience is there to judge you.

Your audience wants you to succeed! — One of the biggest fears people have (including myself), is that you are going to fail miserably, make a complete tit of yourself, and sink into a black hole of despair once its all over. Well, guess what, nothing bad is going to come of your talk. Nothing. And guess who’s got your back and has your best interest in mind? Your audience does. They are there because they want to be there, and they genuinely want to see you nail it — which you will do.

You may be nervous, but your audience won’t know — There isn’t a magic cure to stop the adrenaline and prevent you from feeling nervous. There are certain chemicals in your body which will see to that. However, no matter how nervous, or uncomposed you think you look or sound, it’s proven that your audience will only sense ~20% of that. The rest is all up there in your head. So don't worry!

You’re going to smash it! — Finally, but not to be understated, you’re going absolutely nail it. If you enter your speech or presentation with that mindset, it will resonate with your audience and you will deliver a more comfortable, coherent speech.

There are always improvements to be made to becoming the speaker you want to be — there’s never a ‘completed it’ moment when doing this kind of thing because you can always find ways to improve, or adapt for your audience.

My personal journey to become a more confident speaker is an ongoing work in progress. I’m seeing small improvements with every talk I deliver, which raises another important point. You will only get better by doing! So, the next time you get the opportunity to deliver a talk or presentation, just take the bull by the horns and give it a go. You might just be surprised by the rewards.