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Estimated as much as 77% of the population experience some degree of anxiety related to public speaking. For some people, this can even manifest as glossophobia, a type of social phobia specifically related to public speaking.
Regardless of the severity of your fear of public speaking, there’s no denying that a lack of confidence can take a toll on your presentation skills. With many careers requiring some level of public speaking, finding ways to boost your confidence can go a long way in improving how you present yourself and how you are perceived by others.
Here are five insider tips to boost your confidence as a public speaker:
Related: How to Become a Confident Public Speaker
1. Practice makes perfect
“Practice makes perfect” may be a cliché, but there’s no denying that becoming more familiar with your presentation can greatly boost your confidence. You can practice your speech out loud at home or even while driving to work to improve the natural flow of your speech.
Of course, practice will be even more effective if you practice every aspect of your presentation – from how you will use visual aids to the body language you portray as you stand and speak. Some people even film themselves practicing so they can identify issues with their facial expressions, tone, and body language that make them appear nervous or unprepared.
Some speakers weave personal stories into their talk because it’s unique content that you’ve already practiced in a sense. First you learned the story by experiencing it, and then you ‘practiced’ it by playing it in your head. Using stories can reduce the pressure speakers feel to ‘perform’. Like dr. Chiagozie Fawole, founder of SavvyDocs, says a recent blog post, “You are the expert on your story. No one can argue about a deal you made, an experience you had, or something that was uniquely yours.” She continues, “Tell stories that show what you mean. When you tie a point to a story you’ve experienced, you get the message across, more people remember it, and you feel relaxed when you tell it.”
Remember, if you look confident when you speak, your audience won’t know you’re nervous. Even relatively simple aspects of body language, such as smiling or making eye contact with an audience, can help convey confidence. Be sure to practice these as part of your preparations.
2. Control your nerves
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous before speaking, no matter how much you’ve practiced. A certain amount of nervousness can actually be beneficial, which makes you look excited and makes it easier to focus on your presentation. But if you let your nerves get the better of you, you can lose focus and have a harder time getting your message across.
Before your speech, consider practicing controlled breathing or another mindfulness exercise to help you maximize your focus and release some of that nervous tension. You can also exercise earlier in the day help reduce stress by releasing endorphins and elevating mood.
On the day of your presentation, be mindful of what you are doing put in your body. Alcohol, caffeine, sugary drinks and processed foods contain substances that can increase your stress and anxiety. On the other hand, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium and other nutrients can actually reduce stress.
Related: Does Public Speaking Make You Nervous? Here are 10 secrets to help you run it like a pro.
3. Pause and speak slowly
Nervousness and anxiety are found to cause people talk too fast, causing their speech to become confused or mumbled. While speaking quickly can help you “finish” your public speaking more quickly, it can come at the cost of being able to deliver a truly effective presentation.
If you are nervous, consciously try to slow down your speech. Even if it feels too slow for you, it will often result in a better experience for your listeners. One way to deal with nerves and maintain good speaking speed is to pause and breathe at strategic points during your presentation. Deep breathing can help you mentally reset and focus.
Pauses at the end of important parts of your presentation or after asking a question give your audience time to think about what you said. This can also help you get rid of the habit of using “filler” words like “um” or “ah” that we often say when we are nervous.
4. Focus on the positive
The time after you give your presentation should be used for self-reflection. While you are likely to make mistakes, this should not be the focus of your thoughts. This can cause you to lose confidence, making you even more nervous for the next time you have to speak in public.
Instead, try to acknowledge and focus on what you did right. Write down what went well during your presentation. If someone compliments you, make a note of that too. Making a list of the positives, while still thinking about what you can do better next time, will be a much better motivator to prepare for your next public speaking opportunity.
5. Don’t be afraid to get professional help
Glossophobia is a serious social phobia that can cause problems at work or in other situations, even with physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing or nausea. For individuals with severe levels of this social phobia, some degree of professional intervention may be necessary.
This phobia is often addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), sometimes in combination with medication. CBT focuses primarily on positive self-talk and confronting your fear in a safe environment with the help of a licensed professional. Participating in speaking groups can also provide a safe place to improve your skills and overcome your fears.
Related: 5 Tips to Feel More Confident in Public Speaking
Even if you still feel a little nervous about speaking in public, applying these tips can go a long way in improving your confidence and ability to get your message across effectively. And as you continually exude confidence, your inner confidence will grow.
Whether you need to pitch to an investor or give a presentation to board members, improving your public speaking skills will be an asset throughout your career.