Published: 28 February 2017

Taming your fear of presenting in public

I haven’t always felt confident public speaking. Like many people, I have a public speaking gremlin that has been known to wrestle with me internally during key moments of address. This gremlin is barely visible to the outside world, but it makes for a very hot, sweaty and unpleasant journey through the delivery of a presentation. 

Not everyone has to speak to big groups regularly, but fear of public speaking is often relative. It can prevent you from speaking up during staff meetings or make you feel unconfident delivering a presentation to your peers. Here are four things to help you tackle your own fear:

1. Tame the gremlin

Identify you have one and imagine it is separate from you. Give it 30 seconds to say all it needs to say, things like “Who do you think you are?” “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” “No one is interested”). Then give a clear, concise response to your gremlin, such as “thank you gremlin, I hear what you are saying but it’s not helpful right now.” Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson is a great read for anyone who has struggled to master their own inner demons.

2. Get yourself prepared

Whether it’s with a PowerPoint presentation and notes, or visual cue cards, allow yourself some prompts. If you’re addressing your colleagues at a team meeting, consider writing down your thoughts beforehand to help you gather yourself before addressing them. Being prepared will help empower you to build your confidence. 

3. Be self-compassionate

Sometimes before I speak in public, I give myself some space, do some deep breathing and give myself a few affirmations. For me, a bit of self-support prior to the session is key. Don’t forget to treat yourself (in a healthy way) after conquering your fear.

4. Practise makes perfect!

The more you speak in public, the easier it will get. Get so used to it that it’s second nature and you forget what you were worried about in the first place. If you keep doing presentations, and if in some of them you say the ‘wrong’ thing or you get a bit hot and bothered and you see that by doing these things you don’t end up dying, a little bit of your gremlin’s power and energy dies. You prove to your gremlin that messing up or ‘failing’ doesn’t kill you, and so it becomes easier to take the stage once again.

If you don’t have lots of opportunities to practice, why not join a local Toastmasters club, designed to give you a place to learn about the art of speaking in public. Check out these tips on giving presentations and this article for tips on writing effective cue cards. 

Adapted with permission from Hannah Massarella’s blog, birdmovement.com

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Hannah Massarella, founder, Bird

Hannah is a certified professional co-active coach and the founder of Bird. Bird is about escaping barriers both internally and externally. We champion creativity, innovation and development in the not-for-profit sector. Bird works with NGO workers, researchers, PhD students, doctors, nurses, social workers, carers, teachers, coaches, counsellors and entrepreneurs.