How to speak in public without fear
Overcome nerves about public speaking and deliver a power-packed performance every time
Table of Contents
Learn how to speak in public without fear
Before we start, remember this.
What we call “public speaking” also includes job interviews, business meetings, and sales calls.
Here we go through all the bad things that can happen during your talk, speech or meeting, and how you can respond in the best possible way.
Follow these steps and you will be speaking in public without fear every time you stand up.
No matter how big or small your stage.
The tl;dr for everyone in a hurry
- Practice, practice, practice. Then rehearse some more.
- Don’t rely on thinking a good game in your head. Body memory is stronger than mind memory.
- Check everything beforehand by doing a room and technology “recce”
- Ask for the equipment and testing time you need.
- Know your audience is not your enemy. Almost everyone wants you to succeed.
- When nerves do hit, take a deep breath, accept you’ve lost your train of thought and admit it (first to yourself and, if you want, to your audience)
- If you display confidence, your audience will be confident in you.
- Deal with the audience cynic by allowing them to have their say … once!
- Deal with the audience chatterer by gently retaking control … it’s your presentation!
- Deal with the audience whisperer by making eye contact with them … solid eye contact is a great deterrent.
- Ask what you can give rather than get. Generosity is powerful for removing the stress of being the centre of attention.
Prep time: Five steps to avoid a tech disaster
Presenting with technology such as slide decks (delivering presentations using the likes of PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or Google Slides, for instance) affords us great freedom and creativity for memorable presentations.
But it can also go horribly wrong.
Have you ever had any of the following happen to you:
- A microphone cut out at the beginning of your presentation
- A PowerPoint slide deck suddenly freezes
- A presentation clicker is “as dead as a mouse” and no use at all
If you’ve ever found yourself in any of these situations, don’t worry.
You are not alone!
Presenting with technology affords us great freedom and creativity these days when it comes to making memorable presentations.
It can also go horribly wrong.
Check out this “worst nightmare” parody:
When you’re presenting with technology, there are a few things you can do ahead of your presentation to shrink the odds of something going wrong, so that you can head off disaster at the pass.
Here are a few tips you can use to help ensure a smooth, slick presentation delivery that hits a home run when you present with technology.
1. Check the tech beforehand
ALWAYS do a sound check and tech check.
Whether you’re introducing a colleague or giving a 1-hour presentation, always make time to get into the space and liaise with the sound engineer or organiser before people come into the room.
Check the following:
- Is your presentation clicker is working?
- Make sure the clicker batteries are fresh
- Check online links and that WiFi is working
- Are your PowerPoint slides working properly?
- How are your microphone and levels?
Of course there’s always a chance things might go wrong even after all that careful planning but the chances are far, far less and you can feel confident that you’ve done all your homework.
2. Ask for what you need
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Find out if you have a choice of microphone and ask for what you need.
Whenever possible, eliminate any obstacles that come between you and the audience, the most obvious one being the dreaded podium.
There will be occasions where you won’t have a choice, such as awards ceremonies and dinner events where you will be expected to use the podium.
But if you have a choice, and you will have to ask sometimes, for presentations choose a lapel microphone, a hand-held microphone, or no microphone at all.
This will afford you freedom of movement and direct access to the audience.
This might seem obvious when it comes to preparation.
But do not underestimate the power of familiarity with your technology!
Especially when it comes to microphones and practising with your slide deck.
Practice your delivery using a surrogate hand-held microphone (a hair brush or even a serving spoon work in a pinch!), a microphone on a stand or using no microphone at all (as you would with a lapel mic).
It’s the simple act of imagining yourself in different situations that does the trick.
4. Do a “recce”
When presenting with technology, in army-speak this is a “reconnaissance run”—checking out the landscape before executing the mission so there are no surprises.
In layman’s terms this means getting into the space you’ll be delivering in and getting the lay of the land before the actual event.
Some examples of things to think about during your “recce” mission.
- Where you’ll be standing
- Where the screen will be
- How high the screen will be placed
- How large the room is, so will you have to use a microphone or not
- What will the lighting be like…?
Basically, this is a chance for you to get all the information you can before the actual event.
The chance of success goes up, and the room for glitches goes down!
5. Have a Plan B
Put another way: prepare for the worst.
Some of the best presentations are just one person and a flip chart.
No matter what happens, the show must go on, right?
So have a plan of action ready if the worst case scenario occurs.
What about if the electricity goes out, or your laptop decides to pack it in?
Always, always, always have a hard copy of your slides or notes with you for every eventuality.
If you’ve prepared and know your content, you’ll be able to deliver your presentation no matter what fate throws at you. And trust me, the audience will be with you every step of the way because we love an underdog.
At the end of the day, failing to plan is planning to fail.
The Presenting with Technology Recap
No matter how much we check our technology is working, things may inevitably go awry. That’s just the nature of the beast.
So in order to reduce the chances of a major technological glitch affecting your big presentation, you need to be prepared.
When you plan ahead you’ll at least be ready to pick up the ball and run no matter what.
- Do a “Tech Check” in advance
- Ask for what you need
- Practice with any technology involved
- Recce the room
- Have a Plan B
Do your reconnaissance, practice, and plan for as many eventualities as you can and above all, Keep Calm And Carry On!
Dealing with public speaking panic attacks
It’s our worst nightmare as public speakers: the public speaking panic attack.
We might have done all our advance preparation, and set ourselves up for success, but for whatever reason, when you’re up there, from somewhere the panic sets in, nerves take over and you are speaking from a place of fear.
And then your mind goes blank.
When the moment we all dread happening actually happens, how can we recover?
Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
There’s no doubt it’s one of the scariest and loneliest places to find yourself and it can happen to anyone.
But if it happens to you, then what?
You have a choice – the ‘fight or flight’ choice.
It is entirely up to you. In the case of one much-talked-about Samsung presentation in 2014, Hollywood director Michael Bay chose flight…
But if you choose instead to stay and fight, what do you need to do?
Let’s start here.
- Take a moment and take a deep breath
- Accept that you have lost control and your train of thought
- Admit it—firstly to yourself and then if you want, to your audience
Now, think about this question.
What’s the worst that can happen?
It’s very important that you realise as soon as you possibly can that your audience is not your enemy.
Every audience wants the presenter to do well—if the speaker is doing well, the audience does well. If a speaker is doing badly, the audience does badly.
Even in Michael Bay’s case, his audience was willing him to recover.
How to overcome a public speaking panic attack
1. Before you even get to the auditorium or stage
Remember to have notes or at least a cue/anchor to help you get back on track
2. When you’ve just begun your talk
- Stop, breathe, admit, accept it yourself
- Start over
- Tell the audience (honesty is always appreciated)
3. When your mind goes blank
- Stop, breathe, admit to yourself
- Repeat what you’ve just said (or just ask the audience) and this can get you back on track.
- Remind yourself that everyone you admire has gone through MANY challenging situations just like you’re experiencing right now, and success in life is all about how you respond to moments like this
Dealing with hecklers, cynics and other jerks
Generally, audiences are great – they want to listen and learn.
If you’re in control and confident, so are they.
Sometimes, though, we get that odd person who’s just a pain in the ass!
So how to we deal with that difficult audience member?
We get asked this question from our clients from time to time. Here are some ideas that will help you keep control and credibility.
- Take their question or comment, thank them for their input, and move on
- If they keep talking, interrupt them by saying something like “Just on the point of…” and then, once you’ve broken their flow, you can take back control
- Ask them to hold comments and questions till the end
- Tell them that to be fair to everyone in the audience, please limit questions to one per person
- If they persist, ignore them. You are in control of the presentation. You can choose not to keep stopping to take their comment or questions
- Don’t appear rude. Acknowledge them by saying that you see they are trying to get in again, but that you will come back to them at the end
- Stay calm. You could end up alienating yourself from your entire audience if you get aggressive or negative with a difficult audience member
- Allow them to have their say … to a certain degree. Because once they have said their piece, they might just leave it at that. If you gag them immediately, they will persist throughout the presentation to be cynical and try to interrupt you
- Acknowledge them. You can acknowledge without agreeing with them. For example, for someone who brings a negative attitude to a proposed new initiative, you might say, “Tom, I understand why you feel the change is unnecessary and that you have been through two change programmes before.” This does not imply that you agree with him, but it does acknowledge and validate his experience though
- Ask them to be specific. Often a cynical audience member will throw in a comment to distract you or the audience. If you can ask them to be more specific, to give an example of what they mean, oftentimes there is little or no substance to their interruptions and they back down
- Keep on track. If they are taking the presentation off the point, you will have to restate the purpose and objectives of your presentation
- Stay professional. Never criticise anyone personally
Or maybe take a lesson from Jimmy Carr. (Beware, language warning, so not safe for a work PC without headphones!)
- First, help! Try and establish first off if they are lost or maybe they just missed, didn’t hear, or didn’t understand what you said. If they are not too much of a distraction initially, let it go!
- Use your eyes. Good eye contact tends to deter
- Use your voice. If whispering continues, look in the direction of the whispers and focus your voice directly at them. Not only will you be looking in their direction, but soon the rest of your audience will be looking to see what you are looking at
- Play the challenge card. If it still continues, you can stop, look in their direction and say “I just want to ensure that everyone is clear with what I’m talking about. I’m sorry; I hope I haven’t lost you both. Is there something I can clarify for you?”
Here’s a really annoying and difficult audience member!
What would you do?
(I’d have used that conducting stick for sure…)
Public speaking imposter syndrome
We’ve all been there.
Suddenly imposter syndrome rears its ugly head and you hear your inner critic say, “You don’t deserve to be here.”
Public speaking – even if it’s a business meeting or a sales call – is the perfect breeding ground for imposter syndrome to strike hard.
Imposter syndrome is, simply, the fear of failure, the rise of self-doubt and the yearning for perfectionism.
Whether it happens in front of one person or an entire audience, the feelings are the same.
You feel inadequate.
You think you’re undeserving of where you are, and that you have no credibility.
You’re not alone.
Imposter syndrome does need not to cripple you or lead you to miss out on opportunities to move up the ladder in your career. You can gain awareness, make a plan of action, and do something about it.
The Fear of Being Judged
One big trigger of imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are the centre of attention and being judged.
No one is immune to this.
It can strike when you’re talking to one person or speaking to an audience of thousands.
So the question is: What are you going to do about it?
Be Prepared And Don’t Fall Into The ‘Wing It’ Trap
“Winging it” is never a good idea. It sets you up for panic and failure and no speaker worth their salt would rely on improvising completely.
Preparation is your best secret weapon.
Preparation and rehearsal create physical memories in your body and get you out of your head and into a more grounded, centred place.
The more you practice being in a place of vulnerability and panic, the less power it will have over you.
Rehearse in front of people you trust.
Film or record yourself and watch/listen back.
Practice in different venues or locations.
Then, if imposter syndrome kicks in, your body will remember feeling uncomfortable, dealing with it, and getting on with the job at hand.
Trust Your Body, Not Your Brain
We know from scientific fact that physical memory is much stronger than thought memory.
When you physicalize your public speaking practice, the information sticks in your muscle memory more indelibly than if you just think about it. Don’t rely on thinking a good game in your head.
When imposter syndrome kicks in and all that rehearsal and practice seems to go out the window, don’t panic. All the information your body learned through purposeful practice and rehearsal is still there.
Take a breath, ground yourself, and give your body a second to remember. Trust that you’ve done the work and therefore you have what you need in the moment.
Take The Focus Off Yourself And Put It On The Audience
The spotlight is most definitely on you as the speaker and yet the most important thing in the room is the audience.
Take the focus off yourself and think instead about what you can give to your audience.
When you come from a place of what you can give rather than what you can get, your thoughts will be placed on a much higher level. Make generosity the foremost thought in your mind and take the pressure off yourself to be perfect.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading this guide to overcoming nerves in public speaking and presentations so that you can speak in public without fear, every time.
This was all about during your talk or presentation.
If you haven’t get checked out our guide to the things you can do before your speech or presentation, make sure to go there also.
Thanks for reading.