What do Eleanor Roosevelt, Jay-Z and Sir Richard Branson have in common? Despite their impressive accolades, they’re all known to have been struck with nerves before public speaking. They’ve experienced the same surge of sweaty-palmed panic many of us suffer when we’re scheduled to talk to a group. If you’ve ever felt embarrassed for wanting to hide in the bathroom five minutes before you’re due to speak, you’re in good company.
In our workshops, we hear so many otherwise confident people express nerves about speaking to groups, whether in monthly divisional meetings or a presentation in front of hundreds of industry experts. In seeking to feel confident, they waste time perfecting their content, rather than doing the psychological work needed to feel comfortable in front of an audience. Unfortunately, it takes more than well planned content on beautiful slides to have a positive impact.
The good news is you can get over this. It’s possible to feel calm and confident – and even enjoy – speaking in front of groups. We just need to tackle the root problem.
Here are four strategies to help boost your confidence from within.
The first fear-busting strategy is about cultivating your self-belief. How much do you believe in yourself as a communicator? If you think you’re a terrible speaker, you’re not going to feel confident making your point to the audience: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they are yours.”
We all have a ‘critical troll’ in our heads who pops up now and then to remind us of our shortcomings and point out everything that could possibly go wrong. But we don’t have to listen. Disarm your inner troll by making a list of three qualities that work in your favour when you communicate. Do you have a great sense of humour? A warm smile? An ability to explain things clearly? The troll is at its strongest when the nerves set in, so make it an ongoing habit to collect evidence of the times you’ve communicated well, so you can reinforce your self-belief over time and give yourself a reminder just before you take the stage.
When we’re nervous, it’s natural to feel self-conscious. However, dwelling on your inner angst means you’re likely to miss a crucial confidence-builder: a connection with your audience.
Try shifting your attention away from yourself and towards your listeners. Get curious about why they’re there and what each one wants or needs from the exchange. Reframe your presentation as a service to your listeners, and both sides will feel more connected.
Another useful perspective shift is to think of this as a conversation. Watch their reactions and respond accordingly. If it feels right, use humour to help your audience relax and relate to you.
And remember to pause. Pausing not only gives you a moment to gather your thoughts, it gives your audience a moment to lean in and connect with what you’re saying. If you find yourself rushing, just slow down, take a breath, and smile at the audience before resuming your talk.
Some people radiate with confidence without trying. They command an audience in any situation. Can you develop this elusive ‘X-factor’ if it doesn’t come naturally? In short, yes. When you break it down, it’s pretty simple:
Presence = connection x conviction
When you put 100% of your focus on your audience AND you’re expressing something you believe fully, you will have presence. It starts from the moment you walk into the room and continues until the applause. The challenge is to find the importance in the message. What makes each point important to you? And more significantly, what makes it important to the group? When you connect to the purpose behind your presentation, your confidence will shine through.
Fear of public speaking is often about worrying you’ll forget what to say, so everyone laughs at you (there’s that inner troll again…). This leads many people to become overly concerned with crafting the perfect words and forgetting everything we’ve just said about connection.
Of course, it’s important to be prepared. Practicing in front of a mirror, camera or amenable friend is essential to iron out the kinks before a big presentation. And for smaller meetings, having a few bullet points jotted down can be a handy safety net for any blank moments. But your audience isn’t listening for perfection. People are influenced by how you make them feel – your connection and conviction.
Your group doesn’t want you to feel anxious or awkward. They want to hear your ideas. They’re on your side. The more connected you are with them, the more they’ll engage with what you’re saying, and the more relaxed and confident you’ll feel.
Would you like to increase your confidence and impact when speaking to groups? We offer confident speaking workshops and confidence coaching to help people thrive in front of an audience, whether in a small meeting, workshop or keynote setting. Contact us to find out more.
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