Gallup says 40 percent of people fear public speaking — and some people fear it more than death.
Jerry Seinfeld interpreted this as meaning that at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
How do you get over public speaking fear?
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I've given great talks at MIT, UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania and other places. Here are six tips from experts and research to help you do the same.
1) You're not perfect — and that's normal
In Scott Berkun's excellent Confessions of a Public Speaker he points out that anytime we talk it's a bit of a mess.
Even the unedited speeches of great orators like Martin Luther King and Churchill have numerous errors.
People know this and are naturally forgiving.
Berkun references Michael Erard's book Um:
Take your errors in stride. The audience will look to you to decide how serious a blunder is and if you're cool, they probably will be too.
2) How to prepare
Obviously you have to prepare the material. But how can you prepare for the fear?
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and an introvert herself, is now a professional public speaker.
How did she overcome public speaking fear?
She practiced in front of small, supportive groups to desensitize herself.
From my interview with Susan:
3) Know the first minutes cold
The Art of Public Speaking makes an excellent point: work especially hard practicing your intro.
Not just because it grabs the audience and sets the tone, but research shows having the beginning down cold can help with jitters.
Anxiety levels drop after a few minutes so having the intro well-rehearsed gets you through the toughest part of the talk.
4) Reduce stress ahead of time
Scott Berkun also has excellent tips for making sure things go well — which makes sure you don't have to worry about things going well.
5) What to do if you do screw up
Scott Berkun recommends looking for a face in the crowd that seems supportive.
That's your emotional base. Look to that person for support to keep you moving forward and build from there.
6) Cheat: Make friends ahead of time
Yes, there's a way to cheat your way through public speaking fear.
Berkun recommends talking to a few audience members before the presentation, and referencing them by name during the talk.
This has three benefits:
- Now the audience members aren't all strangers to you.
- Those people feel special and engaged when you mention them.
- The rest of the audience feels like you're part of the group.
What sums up the thrust of all six tips?
Spend a lot of time preparing and make every effort to connect with your audience personally.
If you forget everything else, keep that in mind and you'll still see dramatic improvements in your ability.
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