These 3 Tips Will Help You Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

Portrait of a smiling business woman with an afro in bright glass office

I recently hosted a Train-the-Trainer session with one of my long-term clients. A new trainer will be delivering training courses I designed for the company. I knew her first half-day training session was today, so I called her up to see how her very first training session went. 

“Myra, I was so nervous! My voice quivered, and my legs and arms shook. It was obvious to everyone that I was nervous. Can you help me with this?”

That took me back to my very first speech. It was 8th grade Civics class. Mr. McGinty was my teacher. I had to give an 8-minute speech. I was allowed to use up to 5 index cards. I used all 5 all right, front and back. My entire 8-minute speech was written out word-for-word on those cards. I read the speech and nearly died. My hands shook as I held the cards. My voice quivered something terrible. I remember my left leg just would not stop moving.

I assured my client that nervous energy is typical and that most people have a real fear of public speaking. And yes, I could help her with this.

Tips for picturing the entire audience in their underwear usually don’t help with the nervous jitters. What does help? Feeling confident and powerful helps you not feel nervous. But how does one manifest confidence and power?

Here are the 3 things I do to feel confident and powerful in front on an audience, the 3 things I shared with my client when we spoke today.

1. It’s about the audience, not you. When I first started out as a keynote speaker and trainer, my focus was on me. I had to have the perfect PowerPoint. Great energy was spent on having just the right outfit and accessories. I’d always get my hair and nails done before big events. It’s good to look good, but that’s not the point.

Your focus needs to be on your audience. Focus on being fully present with your audience. Deliver value. Engage your audience with stories, small group discussions and humor. When your focus is on your audience, there’s no time to consider yourself and there’s little room for nervous energy. When I changed my focus from me to my audience, my confidence soared.

2. Preparation is everything. The more prepared you are, the more confident you are. I literally rehearse my stories and my full keynotes aloud and I rehearse over and over. Right now I am preparing to deliver a brand new keynote topic in front of an audience of thousands. I have been researching and crafting this keynote for about 10 months. I have reserved the last 60 days before the keynote for nearly daily out loud rehearsals. In the weeks leading up to the event, I will do dress rehearsals with my slide deck. This level of preparation gives you confidence. Confidence is power and keeps you from feeling nervous.

3. Try the Power Pose. I just discovered the Power Pose earlier this year and now I do it before every keynote, training session or important meeting. Amy Cuddy, researcher and professor at Harvard Business School, has discovered body language techniques that make people feel more powerful.

In Cuddy’s research she found that if people stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes, their testosterone (in men and women) increases significantly and their cortisol (stress hormone) drops significantly. What is standing like Wonder Woman, you ask? It is to stand tall with your chest out and your hands on your hips. The Wonder Woman pose, referred by Cuddy as a Power Pose, makes people feel more powerful. People who do the Power Pose for just 2 minutes are more risk-taking, think more abstractly and are more likely to do very well in stressful situations, like public speaking.

My client loved the Power Pose idea and she committed to putting her focus on her audience. She felt prepared and when she combines preparation with power and audience focus, she will be amazing. If you get the nervous jitters before public speaking, try these 3 tips and you too will be amazing.

Myra Golden is a customer experience keynote speaker and trainer who travels North America looking for great stories to share, and new ways to help her clients deliver the best possible customer experience.