Public speaking is consistently ranked as the number one fear of people in America. Being nervous about speaking in front of a crowd is understandable. However, by practicing these strategies, you can downplay your nerves and amplify your confidence, increasing the effectiveness of your presentation.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
One of the best ways to assuage your public speaking fears is to prepare as much as you can. Don't just settle for doing enough research on your topic to be able to create a basic speech. Make sure your read every piece of information available on your topic. This does a couple of things for your nerves. First, it makes you incredibly familiar with the topic. This makes writing and memorizing the speech easier, as you fully understand the material you're handling, which should, in turn, calm your fears. Second, it allows you to better handle any questions that may arise as a result of your presentation, which should make you more comfortable giving the speech to begin with. Preparation can really increase your comfort level with the whole public speaking process, decreasing your nerves as a result.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice your speech as much as possible before it's time to actually deliver it. The more familiar you are with the speech, the more comfortable and less nervous you will be come performance time. There are a couple of tricks you can use while you practice. First, to help you memorize or become more familiar with the text of the speech, read it aloud repeatedly. For some people, pacing or walking in a circle can help you to better absorb the information. This helps you remember the information in three ways: you're seeing it, you're saying it, and you're reading it. Second, deliver your speech to your reflection. This will help you self-adjust any facial expressions or physical ticks that may distract your audience. Finally, give the speech to supportive family or friends. It's best if you can practice in front of multiple people, as this will give you multiple perspectives on your performance, and give you the opportunity to practice making eye contact with more than one person. Can't wrangle a crowd? Cut out pictures of people from magazines and tape them on a wall in front of you while you give your speech so you can practice the same concepts.
Fake It 'Till You Make It
Realistically, very few people are ever entirely comfortable speaking in front of a group, regardless of how much preparation or practice they put into the performance. The trick is to never let 'em see you sweat. Even if you're not incredibly confident, put on a false show of bravado. People will be more receptive of a message if it's coming with someone from authority, and confidence, even if it's just for show, can increase perceptions of credibility. There are a couple of non-verbal tactics you can employ to achieve this impression of security. First, stand up straight with your shoulders back. This stature conveys a sense of strength and solidarity. Second, make sure to smile. Smiling indicates a sense of comfort to the audience, and establishes a personal connection with the audience. These affects can increase audience receptiveness to the message of your speech and potentially make them more forgiving of any minor stumbles along the way.
Giving a speech can be a nerve wracking experience. However, with preparation, practice, and a little bit of showmanship, you can have any audience eating out of the palm of your hand. Kiss those fears goodbye!