Career Woman

Overcoming the fear of public speaking


Shaking hands and shaking legs, stumbling over words, sounding like a textbook and feeling foolish. That was me giving a talk! This hell dominated my life when I was working years ago in the corporate and charity worlds. I did not believe it was possible to change this. I just thought it was part of me and my personality and I would have to live with it for the rest of my life.

Many years later, as a communications and voice expert, I have discovered that it is completely possible to overcome the fear of public speaking and even enjoy presenting what you know to other people.

So here are my top tips for overcoming the fear of public speaking that I wish I had known years ago.

1) Speak to your specific audience

I am sure you will know your subject and be well prepared. However, you may well have too much material and not be sure which parts to omit and which parts to leave in.

Asking a couple of simple questions as you prepare can give you pointers as to an appropriate direction for your talk: “What is this audience interested in? “What will be compelling to this audience?”

These types of questions allow you to become aware of how to structure your talk to really appeal to your specific audience.

2) Fear or excitement?

When you feel the familiar sensations of ‘fear’, ask yourself “Is this fear, or is this excitement?”

Often, when we are little, our parents expect us to be afraid in situations that actually excite us, so we can end up confusing excitement and fear.

I know for me nowadays I often feel some tingling in my body before a presentation. I know that this is excitement and do not allow the physical sensations to stop me from being present with my talk.

3) Confidence trick

Dress as the person you would like to be giving your talk. You may choose to wear slightly different type of clothes or shoes, to ‘look the part’.

The trick here is to practice wearing the clothes at home or out with friends, so you do actually feel comfortable in them. And there is a kind of magic here – you are becoming the sort of woman who wears these clothes!

4) Handle nerves part 1

You may feel your hands or your legs shaking or you may feel sick in your stomach.

One of the easiest ways to alleviate or dissipate these physical sensations is to move. I suggest stretching or doing your favourite exercise routine as close to the talk as you can. I sometimes go to the restroom to stretch or even to jump up and down a bit.

It is also fine to move around a bit while you are giving your talk. It gets the tension out of your body and leaves you free to focus on your audience.

5) Handle nerves part 2

Feel your feet firmly planted on the ground and breathe deeply into your abdomen. This can help you feel present, grounded and safe.

I suggest you also expand out, beyond the room you are in. This takes you out of feeling overwhelmed and allows you to be more present with your audience.

6) Don’t say too much

It is great to entice your audience, rather than overpower them with lots of facts and information. Giving them just enough to get them interested means they will have to reach out for the extra information they would like to have. This tends to mean the audience is interested and enthusiastic.

7) Draw your audience in

Often when people are nervous, it can be hard to hear them, hard to engage with them. This is unsurprising as, at least part of them, would rather not be there giving the talk at all.

Other speakers ‘push’ the information at the audience. People often believe that they can ‘prove’ what they are saying with the force of their presence. This actually leads to resistance and shutdown in the audience.

An alternative to this is to ‘pull energy’ from your audience. You do this by imagining an energetic connection from behind the audience, through the audience, to you and through you. This technique means that you are connected to your audience, they find it easy to hear what you are saying, and they are drawn towards you.

Don’t worry if this sounds a bit mysterious. This is something that many performers and leaders do very naturally and it is something that you, too, can learn.

8) No such thing as perfect

The need to be perfect is one of the things that can hold us back the most, in front of an audience, and in every aspect of our lives.

When we are trying to be perfect, part of our mind is always alert, monitoring to see if we are achieving this ideal. Letting go of that need means that we then have that part of our mind present with the talk we are giving rather than analysing and criticising ourselves.

If you do make a mistake, the best thing you can do is smile and apologise. When you do that, it often draws the audience in and brings them on your side.

These tips would have been useful to me all those years ago when I was struggling and unhappy in the corporate and charity worlds, and I hope they will be for you too, in creating the success you desire and deserve in your career.

About Fiona Cutts

Fiona Cutts is a communications coach, linguist and facilitator for Right Voice for You, a special program by Access Consciousness. An extremely shy and dreamy child, Fiona found herself drawn to languages and travel from a very young age. As well as her native English, she speaks German and French, and has lived in, or travelled through, countries all over the world. During her career as an accountant and auditor, Fiona struggled with an intense fear of public speaking and presentation delivery. As a Right Voice for You facilitator, she draws upon that experience to help others liberate themselves from fear and judgment, and unleash their confident and authentic voice.

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