7 Ways to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking

By Alina Dizik, Special to CareerBuilder

Not everyone is natural at public speaking, but knowing how to confidently deliver a speech or a presentation is a powerful tool in your career arsenal. Of course it's normal to have some fears but excelling is worth the effort, says Sherri Thomas, author of "Career Smart -- 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand." "Being a good public speaker builds your credibility, influence and opens all kinds of opportunities in your career," she says.

There are plenty of ways to get over your fear of public speaking. Eager to gain more confidence when it comes to your speaking skills? Here's how:

1. Start out small

You're not going to give a perfect 40-minute lecture on the first try, so make sure to build up to giving a more in-depth presentation. Get practice by volunteering for any opportunities for public speaking engagements. Whether you're speaking at a neighborhood association meeting or as part of a roundtable discussion, being in front of an audience can ease your nerves. Going through the prep work in even the shortest presentation will help you build up to longer engagements.

2. Leave room for mistakes

When it comes to delivering a live speech, go easy on yourself, Thomas says. Most audience members have been on both sides of the fence and are more understanding than you think. Stumbling or even technical malfunctions are part of the deal. Use your sense of humor to quickly acknowledge any noticeable mistakes and move on.

3. Practice with people you trust

Asking those in your network to provide honest feedback can help you feel more at ease in front of an audience. "Start looking for safe environments where you can strut your stuff and share your knowledge," Thomas says. "This could include presenting a new idea to your manager or colleagues, or sharing your tips with a best friend or neighbor."

4. Make time for follow-up questions

Depending on the size of your audience, answering questions can be tricky. Especially if you're speaking to a larger group, set aside one-on-one time to answer more specific questions that others may not want to learn about, suggests Thomas who did just that when she first started speaking in public. "That let me off the hook for feeling like I was in a pressure cooker having to answer questions in front of a crowd, and allowed to me have more private conversations with attendees who wanted specific information," she explains.

5. Don't fret over your expertise

Just because you're not the total expert on a specific topic, doesn't mean you can't give a presentation that's helpful to your audience. "I encourage my clients by letting them know that they don't have to be the smartest person in the world in order to share their ideas, tips and strategies with other people," Thomas says. While it's important to understand the material you're presenting, there's no need to know everything about the topic.

6. Skip the slides, for now

It's always good to have materials, but giving a presentation shouldn't mean just reading your preparation materials aloud. "Practice giving five-minute mini-presentations without any PowerPoint slides to focus on delivering two to three points crisply and passionately," Thomas says. Afterwards, work in your materials to clarify concepts, which will help to ease your nerves.

7. Prepare for a long-term process

Most stellar speakers didn't get there overnight and it takes a while to really feel comfortable in front of an audience. Make sure you're in it for the long haul and don't expect to feel confident in your speaking skills right away. "Step up and do the research, get the training, talk to other experts, formulate your key ideas and then go for it," Thomas says.

Alina Dizik researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.

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POWERtalk International is a great way to get a jump on the competition. In today's competitve market we need to keep sharp and be ready at a given notice. POWERtalk allows us to do this by practicing with others who have the same goals as you. You will receive a mentor as well as receive constructive feedback on speeches and presentations which, in turn, allows you to grow stronger in your development. I encourage you to check out www.powertalkinternational.com to find an organization close to you.

August 20 2011 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Felicity Cory

I have found that an organization like POWERtalk (http://powertalkinternational.com) has given me opportunities to start out by trying the small assignments. Then to be able to present these in front of a sympathetic audience. Evaluation is also a valuable tool for pinpointing areas where you can improve -and areas where you excel! So often these days, people want an instant "quick fix". Organisations like POWERtalk give an ongoing opportunity to continue fine-tuning your presentation skills. Wimbledon tennis champions don't jump straight to Centre Court!! So.... if you need to improve your presentation or speaking skills, join an oragization like POWERtalk - for the long haul -and the friendships you make!!

August 19 2011 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Building confidence and feeling comfortable are key. This video was far too formal to create a comfort zone. Try relaxation/breathing exercises on a regular basis. It works. When preparing and executing your speech, remember: YOU HAVE INFORMATION THAT YOUR AUDIENCE DOES NOT. That's why they are listening. You're in control for the moment. Find someone(s) in the audience to make eye contact and "speak" to them, noticing their reaction. If it's not encouraging, move on to someone else. And remember: only one pair of eyes is looking at you That's all each of us has. Don't fret over the notion that fifty people are looking at you at the same time. Actually, that makes you kind of important for the moment, but only one person is looking you and being impressed individually either positively or not. It is not collective. The fact that you have something to say that others want or need to hear, puts you in control. And, of course, practice makes perfect.

August 19 2011 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laurence Coates

Point 3 is the crucial one you need to be able to practise with people you can trust. POWERtalk International public speaking clubs provide the friendly, supportive atmosphere you need and there is an optional accreditation programme so that you can measure your progress. To find your nearest POWERtalk club, or to make enquires about starting one, visit http://powertalkinternational.com

August 19 2011 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The one thin g not mentioned here is Toastmasters. I joined the Lakewood Piners Toastmasters club in Lakewood, NJ. They give you the opportunity to speak in a comfortable atmosphere. They offer constructive criticism to improve your speaking abilities. http://lakewoodpiners.freetoasthost.org/

August 19 2011 at 7:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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