When it comes to fears and phobias, the number one fear in America is public speaking. In high school, I shared this fear so often that it hampered by social development and made it difficult to even make friends. Today, as a military instructor and lecturer, I can safely say I have overcome my fear of this common phobia. These are the steps I used to break through that barrier and become a better speaker.
First, I have found that fear in public speaking comes from two primary concerns. The first concern is lack of preparation. An unprepared speaker, regardless of ability, will, at best, put on a poor performance. At worst, an unprepared speaker will stutter their way through a short, unconnected series of spoken words. The second is good old fashioned stage fright. Whether it is a concern about a physical feature or just lack in of confidence in your own ability, even the most prepared speaker can become hobbled by stage fright.
To overcome the first obstacle, preparation, is a simple task. Start with the letters T-A-P. The letter T stands for Topic. Being able to identify your topic is the first step in preparing for a public presentation. No amount of research will overcome a lack of purpose, so clearly identify your topic before you begin. Next, the letter A is to identify your Audience. Using the extremes as an example, a presentation about atomic structure to 8th Graders would be entirely different than a presentation to a group of physicists. Finally, using the letter P, a speaker should be specific about the Purpose of the presentation. Speaking with the purpose to inform will drastically from a speech meant to simply inform an audience. Using these simple steps to prepare a speech will build your confidence in the presentation, thereby making it easier for you to present.
Stage fright is the other half of the problem, and it is often to most difficult to overcome. Most people, when probed, will eventually admit that it starts from a lack of confidence in your own abilities. Even after giving military presentations to senior military members (think generals, admirals and elected leaders), stage fright still creeps into my mind. What happens if they don’t like my presentation? What if my uniform isn’t straight? Is my fly open? This questions serve no other purpose than to undermine your own confidence.
In order to overcome this issue, the first step is to practice. I am of the school of thought that believes that baptism by fire is the best route. In this area, speakers who lack confidence should jump at every opportunity to make a public speech or presentation. In an ideal setting, you should be able to give a speech and instantly get feedback from your audience. Fortunately, a group has been established for just such a purpose, and they are Toastmasters International. This group of people routinely get together, give speeches, and then constructively criticize each other’s presentation skill and format. The more often you stand in front of a crowd and give a speech, the more comfortable you will feel standing in front of any group.
Today, on the first day of a new class, I still get butterflies in my stomach and occasionally have sweaty palms. Looking back, compared to my first speech in 9th grade, I have progressed further than I dreamed possible. So much so that I was given an award for my speaking skill in 2009, a feat I would never have thought was even a possibility at the age of 14. Not only that, but my ability to network within my professional circle has grown by leaps and bounds, a bonus no matter what your career of choice is. It did not happen overnight, but with practice, it is possible. Do yourself a favor, and go out there and speak to the people.