A guide to public speaking for people who hate public speaking

Dry those clammy hands and reach for the mic.

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glossophobia (n): fear of public speaking

The mere thought of public speaking makes most of us queasy and anxious, especially if we’re already prone to overthinking. At the same time, we all know it’s an essential skill that can help advance our careers, make us better leaders, and boost our confidence.

Glossophobia is actually a subset of fear of social situations and affects 75% of the population...Stage fright happens because we are wired for connection, so the fear of being rejected from our “tribe” still sits deep within us. So our actual fear is that a speaking engagement gone wrong will socially ostracize us.

Simone Heng, human connection specialist

In other words, most of us aren’t born with an innate desire to get in front of a bunch of people and run our mouths — it’s a skill we acquire and perfect over time. In fact, we can actually learn to harness the adrenaline we feel before speaking and use it to our advantage, as well as employ techniques from pros to make the process more seamless.

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Picture this:

It’s the day of your speech. Anxiety creeps in, and your whole body starts to feel rigid. But remember: your biggest obstacle is yourself. Managing that tension in your body — and remembering a few crucial tips — will help put your mind at ease.

Here’s how to do so.

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Practice your a** off

It may seem obvious, but the single most important thing you can do before a speaking engagement is to practice as many times as you can, as many ways as you can: in front of the mirror, a house plant, your pug. Have fun with it. When you truly understand what you’re going to say, you’ll develop muscle memory and are less likely to be caught off guard by your nervousness.

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Fear and excitement are actually the same thing, one is just positive and the other negative but what’s happening in the body is the same. This exercise helps people to be mindful of that.

Simone Heng

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Focus on your breathing

When you’re talking, try taking deep breaths from your diaphragm every few seconds. Nervousness manifests in quickened speech, shallow breaths, and a tense upper body. Breathing forces you to slow down, pause, and become mindful of pacing, while also indicating to your audience that you feel relaxed — even if that’s not always the case.

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Connect with your audience

Admitting you’re nervous or cracking a small joke can bring relief to an otherwise tense room. It can also be a reminder that the audience is on your side and wants to see you succeed.

Be flexible

One of the best things you can do to keep an audience engaged is to be flexible and adapt to the room. Look out for reactions as you’re speaking and pivot if need be. Ditch the neatly-prepared script if you notice folks losing interest. Your end goal is to persuade or communicate an idea — not to prove that you’re the best at memorization.

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Keep at it

Even if your fear of public speaking feels insurmountable now, know that it’s not something that is impossible to overcome. Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln were famously terrified of public speaking and look at how far they got. Long story short: You got this, boo.