John stood on his spot half statuesque, beads of sweat rolling down his face with a look of terror and stress when he looked at the number of audience present in front of him for his act. The experienced host of the event looked at him and knew in an instant what to do. He quickly appeared on the stage and diffused the situation making a joking excuse about the microphone not working and said “Looks like the microphone decided to give us the silent treatment today, must have picked up a case of shyness” and the crowd instantly erupted with laughter. Above are two cases of public speaking – one who is seldom in front of a crowd and almost froze and another whose job is to host events and has sharpened their public speaking skills while doing so.
Almost all of us wish to have the skills of the second one in public speaking. However, many of us often become the first when faced with an opportunity to present or speak publicly. And rightly so, it makes sense because, to some extent, a lot of people have a fear of public speaking thinking that people will be judging them or making fun of them.
What is Public Speaking?
Public speaking is an act of presenting or speaking to convey one’s point (including ideas, information, or persuasive argument) to the live audience present in front of them. It takes place in a formal setting like school classrooms, organizations, and public events (such as political speeches, protests, council meetings, town hall meetings, etc.) or even in an informal setting like parties, non-work trips, giving team pep talks, etc.). Furthermore, public speaking has practically become the need of the hour for many professions. It is an important soft skill that focuses on contributing to and improving the overall skillset of an individual. Additionally to know more about why public speaking is a soft skill you can refer to our article Public Speaking Skills: Soft Or Hard?
What is the Importance of Public Speaking Skills?
As an individual grows up he/she/they understand the importance of having public speaking skills in the world of working individuals. Yes, they might have easily dodged such opportunities of public speaking during schooling but throughout the years they might realize that not practicing these skills would only make it more difficult for them in the future.
Public speaking skills are important and useful at every turn in our lives. They come in handy in one’s professional as well as personal life. In professional life, it helps a person convey an important message, address a room and conduct a meeting, motivate their team through pep talk or just give out their ideas and opinions on a subject matter. While in their personal life, it helps them to give a toast during weddings, manage a crowd during house parties express their feelings, and maintain healthy relationships.
While public speaking is one of the most important skills to acquire it is also one of the most dreaded forms of communication.
Is Fear of Public Speaking Legitimate?
Yes, it absolutely is! According to the University of Florida, surveys reveal that around 72% – 75% of people fear public speaking. Additionally, the research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that Glossophobia or public speaking anxiety affects about forty percent of people.
The psychological term used to define the fear of public speaking is Glossophobia (Greek origin – glossa (tongue) and Phobos (fear or dread). Phobia is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive and perpetual fear of an object or situation. The symptoms for those suffering from glossophobia include experiencing anxiety and fear when put to speak in front of a crowd or a bunch of people. Therefore they avoid speaking in public altogether in order to avoid this experience and feel rejected and embarrassed by people. The ramifications of glossophobia may agitate those individuals to have further negative impacts regarding their mental health and academic or work success. Moreover, the 2019 census of the National Institute of Mental Health states that glossophobia affects about 75% of the world’s population.
The exact cause of glossophobia is still unknown but it could be attributed to psychological, biological, and environmental factors. Genetic or biological factors could include a family history of such a disorder. The environmental cause would involve factors such as social upbringing, education, social or peer group, etc. Lastly, negative past experiences or memories of public speaking may also play a role in increasing the chances of this disorder.
Signs and symptoms of glossophobia may include always dodging the chance of public speaking at all costs, excessively preparing oneself for social interactions, and experiencing extreme levels of stress during any public speaking activities like presentations, debates, etc. They may come across to other people as introverted or timid during social interactions. They might require alcohol, substances, or medication to ease the fear.
Biological symptoms include elevated heart rates and blood pressure, profuse sweating, muscle stiffening, dry mouth, nausea, etc. Physical symptoms could further include a trembling voice, weakened tone, or stammering.
Along with work and academic achievements, glossophobia could also have a negative impact on the personal relationships, self-esteem, and social support of an individual.
However, it is important to note that everyone would experience the above-mentioned symptoms. The extent of the fear of public speaking may vary from one individual to another and only those with medium to extreme symptoms would be clinically diagnosed with glossophobia. Others might just have a tinge of fear of public speaking (not phobia) which could be overcome comparatively quickly and easily.
How to overcome the fear of public speaking
Overcoming it clinically
The treatment also differs among individuals keeping in mind the severity of the condition as well as the medical history.
The treatment of clinically diagnosed glossophobia involves medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Medications of anti-anxiety like benzodiazepines might contribute to avoiding or controlling panic or anxiety attacks. Furthermore, social anxiety could be managed by antidepressants. Treatments of psychotherapy (provided by certified mental health professionals) could majorly include exposure therapy (where the individuals would be eventually exposed to situations triggering their glossophobia and be systematically desensitized to the disorder) and cognitive behavioral therapy (where the individuals’ behavioral, and emotional and mental processing towards the fearful situation would be modified). Lastly, lifestyle changes may include adding relaxation exercises like yoga, meditation, and even physical exercise along with public speaking practice to help reduce the symptoms and encourage positive coping mechanisms.
Overcoming the non-clinical fear through other means
Other ways to overcome less severe public speaking fear could include doing some deep breathing exercises which could help one calm their nerves down. One could also induce positive thoughts by visualizing their success thinking they will succeed in their presentation which could help lessen the negative thoughts about social interaction or performance on stage.
Focus on the Topic
Moreover, one should focus on their topic rather than their audience (unless it is an interactive session), knowing your topic well could help the flow of speech more easily and make you less likely to make a mistake. However, even if you do make a mistake having a thorough knowledge of your topic would help you recover. Moreover, if the audience understands that you know your material well but are nervous, they will support and root for you.
Next, don’t be afraid of taking a moment of silence if you cannot remember stuff at the moment. Remember, that audience would not mind you taking a small pause to recall, they are just as human and would understand the situation. Subsequently, before the presentation be sure to visit the place where you are presenting and get acquainted with it. If possible also try to practice there a few times, this will help you at least get familiar and comfortable with the space around you.
Challenge the Worry
Lastly, you could also write down your worries and challenge them one by one. If you are afraid of an unfamiliar audience challenge yourself by asking your friends to come to your practice along with an individual that you are totally unfamiliar with and request them to ask questions and give criticisms. If you fear making a mistake and being embarrassed during a presentation challenge yourself to purposefully make a mistake in front of your practice audience allowing you to learn to cover or rectify it.
Ways to Sharpen Your Public Speaking Skills
Now that you have an idea of what some of the various public speaking skills are, let’s talk about ways to sharpen those public speaking skills. These ways comprise of:-
1. Know Your Audience
Getting to know your target audience and performing a quick background research on them beforehand helps you in many ways to improve your public speaking skills. First of all, it helps you personalize your speech by modifying the use of jargon depending on your audience’s age and knowledge. Secondly, when you know your audience you interact and connect with them and gain their attention, this automatically makes you comfortable and confident with the audience. Lastly, based on their age you can make interactive slides, quizzes, and social experiments for them.
2. Apps that help Sharpen your Public Speaking Skills (especially Presentation Style)
There are a lot of mobile applications nowadays that can help one improve their public speaking skills. They help you control your pace, your tone, your pitch, and even your pronunciation. Additionally, these applications also record the number of times you have used filler words like ‘uhm’ and ‘ah’. These applications are generally AI-based apps and hence they can perform such some of these include Microsoft Powerpoint’s rehearse with coach feature, Orai, Speeko, Gabble.ai, etc. To know more about public speaking skills improving AI tools you can read our article Top 9 Speech AI Tools To Teach You Public Speaking.
Moreover, there is another set of applications and websites that help you make your presentation look interesting and interactive. They help add interactive images, and animations and also can gamify your slideshow using their gamification feature. Additionally, these also provide a sample theme with a modifiable color scheme based on your public speaking topic. Some of these applications and websites include Canva, Genially, Google Slides, etc. Want to learn more about the applications that help make your presentation slides more attention-grabbing 12 Best Presentation Websites Alternatives to PowerPoint in 2023 by Slidebean can help you with that. This article gives you a detailed summary of how these different software work to make an interactive presentation along with their key differentiating feature and their pricing.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
The most basic advice to sharpen your public speaking skills is to practice as much as you can in front of friends, family, acquaintances, strangers; and anyone and everyone who is willing to listen to you and help improve your public speaking skills. With practice, you will be able to master every skill of public speaking over time. Every time you practice make sure to note down where you have faltered and try to work on that skill repeatedly, in the end, you will emerge perfect.
To sharpen your public speaking skills you don’t take up one public speaking opportunity or presentation and continuously keep practicing it with family and friends. Rather you need to take up different public speaking opportunities at different places on different occasions. This will not only give you exposure to different topics but also different kinds of crowds, which may easily help you point out your strengths and weaknesses.
4. Fake it till you make it
A useful tip to remember is that even if you don’t know your content very much in detail, act confidently as you do, it’s a method resembling the phrase “fake it till you make it”. Showing confidence with less knowledge will still make the audience believe you.
5. Acquainting and Getting Comfortable
As mentioned before in this article getting acquainted with the place you are performing and with the audience you are performing for is important to make you comfortable and confident. It makes you more prepared on what to say, how much to express, and where to look so that you are familiar with everything before and would need to only concentrate on the presentation now. Additionally, if there is an issue during your speech or things go south you will be ready knowing what to do and how to manage.
6. Meditation Exercises
There are a lot of meditation exercises on the internet to help you calm your nerves down before an important speech. It is essential to calm your nerves before your speech as it helps in avoiding the usage of filler words, makes you look composed and confident, helps you better interact with the audience, and lastly helps you communicate with clear articulation and good body language. Scientifically, doing meditation exercises is said to decrease the body’s cortisol (stress hormones that contribute to nervousness) levels. Therefore one should take some time for themselves, sit down in a quiet place, and meditate for some time before their public speech so that they can come out less jittery in front of the audience (unlike John!).
7. Get Help
Another useful way to get live (in-person) criticism of your public speaking skills is to ask your friends and family for help and tell them to listen to your speech and give honest criticism. This way you will have your public speaking skills sharpener at home. Another way is joining a group that helps offer support and criticism to sharpen the public speaking skills of those who have difficulty speaking in front of the public (kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous), likewise, Toastmasters is also a non-profit organization that helps people train and improve their leadership skills and speaking.
8. Have a break
The last and very important way to keep your sharpened public speaking skills intact is to take a break. Taking a break is crucial to give yourself and your audience some space and time to relax and refresh after an interactive and cognitively exhaustive session. Everyone needs to clear their minds and get re-energized. This is especially important if you are going to have a long speech. For yourself, you need to give your voice as well as your body some rest so that you don’t get tired, weaken your skills, and make all the above-mentioned mistakes.
Moreover, research has proven that our attention span begins to decrease after 20 minutes of rigorous concentration, therefore breaks help keep the audience engagement at constant rates and prevent them from zoning out during your speech. Hence make it a rule to take a break after 20 minutes, relax, have some fresh air, have some water, have food, and have a KitKat.
It is not a day’s work to sharpen your public speaking skills or overcome your fear of public speaking, it takes weeks or even months to sharpen your public speaking so don’t get disheartened when you don’t notice instant results using these ways. Keep practicing and keep improving, note your progress throughout this journey so that you can look back on how much you have improved. Ultimately, in this world communication and public speaking play an important role in conveying your message, so make sure to make an impact by portraying sharp public speaking skills when you get the opportunity to do so!
One of the best ways to improve the skills of public speaking is through online coaching sessions like Frantically Speaking coaching which you can access from the comfort of your home. These online sessions help you improve your public speaking skills along with interview skills, presentation skills, negotiation and persuasion skills, group discussion abilities, and more all the way summatively acing your communication skills. Click here to learn more about the Frantically Speaking training program.