The first few times you stand up in front of a crowd when you're nervous, it's easy to start seeing them as the enemy. You might worry they're judging your every word and inflection, and become overwhelmed. Though these feelings are natural, in most cases they're entirely your own creation. Most, if not all, of the people sitting out there want you to succeed. They want to learn from you and be entertained by you. As the old saying goes, you can be your own worst enemy. So the next time you panic after stumbling while you're speaking, take a breath, and remind yourself that everyone there is rooting for you.
Knowing your material is an important part of public speaking. Being comfortable with what you have to say is crucial, and that comes with practice. In the days leading up to your speech, run through what you'll say a few times so you're really familiar with it, but keep in mind that not all the prep work you do needs to be conscious. The brain processes a lot while you sleep, so you might be surprised how much more it has sunk in by the morning rather than the night before. But when the big day arrives, avoid reading your notes over and over right before you go on, as this might cause you to feel more anxiety than anything else. For the 10–15 minutes before you're up, just breathe and relax. Trust that you've done your preparation and can just go out there and speak to your audience.
It sounds simple, right? But it doesn't always feel that way when you're up there. When your body is nervous, it tightens up, causing you to take fewer, shallower breaths, which doesn't help when you're trying to talk! Breathing improperly can cause you to rush through important sentences or to trip over your words. While practicing in the safety of your home, take note of where you naturally breathe. If it helps, write down those moments on your speech. This will help you get a better sense of how often you need to breathe to deliver your speech in a comfortable way. Maintain this breathing pattern once you're up there speaking. When everyone's looking at you, the smallest silence can feel like an eternity, but it won't seem that way to them. Pauses are a natural part of speaking, so don't be afraid to take a moment for a nice deep breath before you continue on.
Public speaking is a common fear. The idea of standing in front of a group of people who are staring at you expectantly triggers a fight-or-flight response in many individuals. That's why non-profit organizations such as Toastmasters International were invented. In their pressure-free meetings, you work with a group of like-minded individuals to improve your communication and leadership skills. So if you're interested in how others have improved their public speaking abilities and want to learn how you can too, find a location near you.
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