Public speaking is an important leadership skill, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Over the years, many clients have approached us at Accents Training for a course or a programme that builds their self-confidence. Particularly, when it comes to public speaking.
They often share, with a sigh, that they wish they could just swallow a magic pill before a dreaded presentation, interview or conference call. Something that would give them a boost and enable them to sound clear, credible and persuasive.
Sadly, no such pill exists and there are no ‘quick fixes’. However, all is not lost! There are valuable skills that you can acquire to build your confidence over time. Increasing your self-belief so that you become a powerful and compelling speaker. So, let’s get started. We’ll tackle the issue from two angles: the psychological level and the practical/physiological level.
The Psychological Level of Public Speaking
Firstly, you need to ask yourself why you lack confidence in public speaking:
- Have you had a bad experience in the past, where you went blank or made a complete fool of yourself?
- Have you received negative feedback after a presentation that left you gutted?
- Do you keep comparing yourself to the ‘star’ performers in your team who just seem to be able to communicate so effortlessly?
- Does fear or the ‘inner critic’ overwhelm you, so that your mouth dries up and you can’t think straight?
- Perhaps you are a high introvert and speaking publicly or being in the spotlight is your worst nightmare. You would prefer to listen, observe, have time to think and write out your ideas?
With that said, we are very seldom asked to speak on a topic of which we have no knowledge. Therefore, thorough preparation and knowledge on the topic are critical. That stands to reason. Effectively, acquiring more knowledge on a subject will boost your confidence in public speaking and give you the upper hand.
4 Psychological Tips to Conquer a Fear of Public Speaking:
1. Learn from past mistakes or negative feedback.
Overall, use this as a motivation to challenge yourself to improve. Always ask yourself after a presentation: what could I have done better? What went well? Where could I improve? If you ask people for feedback, listen with an openness to hearing and find ways to work on that element. Perhaps you spoke too fast? Ask yourself what you can do to slow down next time. As John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on the experience.”
2. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
Remember that you are not the ‘other’ person. You are unique. There is no-one else like you. Admittedly, the other person may have spoken better at this particular meeting, but remind yourself of what you have done well. Put it all in perspective. In fact, it is an advantage to have excellent people around you so that they ‘raise the bar’ and you can aim to improve.
3. Identify and control your ‘inner critic’.
Notice what your ‘inner critic’ is saying to you while you are speaking. What are the negative messages it whispers? “You’re not good enough. Your boss is yawning. You are so boring.” etc. – this can be debilitating! In most cases, listening to the inner critic makes us forget what we want to say. We lose our train of thought. We freeze! This is called the amygdala hijack. The amygdala is part of the brain’s limbic system. It is the part of the brain where emotions are given meaning, remembered and attached to associations. For example, when you feel threatened or afraid, the amygdala automatically activates the fight-or-flight response. It shuts down the frontal cortex of the brain which helps you to think logically and to use reasoning. Read on if you would like to know how to control this.
4. Anyone can learn to be an effective public speaker.
This skill is not dependent on personality. Although extroverts may find speaking in public easier, this does not necessarily mean they are all great at it. Namely, extroverts often talk too much and go off on tangents. Whereas, introverts tend to be succinct and to the point. The secret is in finding the balance.
The Physiological Level of Public Speaking
Approach speaking confidently as if it were a sport. This means, practice speaking skills the way that you would practice a sport. It requires repetition and physical skill.
4 Practical Tips to Boost Your Self-Confidence:
1. Firstly, read out loud for a few minutes every day.
This will help you to get used to the sound of your voice so that you can monitor volume, tone and pace. Additionally, it is a good idea to record yourself and listen to the recording. Although it is uncomfortable to hear your voice played back, you will be surprised at what you can pick up. Furthermore, reading out loud helps second-language English speakers increase their vocabulary and improve sentence structure.
2. Learn to breathe deeply, using the diaphragm.
(This is also called diaphragmatic, abdominal or belly breathing.)
Here’s how to do it:
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
- Let the abdominal muscles fall inward as you exhale. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.
3. Your posture communicates strength and presence – stand tall/sit upright.
Use your physical body to help you boost your confidence. For instance, Amy Cuddy in her excellent TED talk says, “Your body can change your mind.” When we are nervous or lack confidence, we tend to slouch and make ourselves smaller. As a result, our body language is tight and closed. For this reason, we need to use body language which is counterintuitive. Learn to use open, more expansive gestures. Lift your head so that your chin is level with the ground. This prevents you from mumbling into your chest. Finally, dare to smile – this relaxes the facial muscles.
4. Exert yourself physically before the talk.
Jump up & down or shake out your muscles to get rid of excess adrenalin. This energises you if you tend to become weak and your energy implodes. On the other hand, if your energy explodes when you are nervous, exerting yourself will get rid of excess energy.
Above all, there is no denying that practice makes perfect. The more you exercise speaking in public, the greater your confidence will be. Remember, you are the master of your destiny. Connect with the audience and be the speaker you have always wanted to be. One day, you might even realize that you’re more excited than worried about the prospect of speaking in front of people.
If you’re looking for specialised leadership training to boost your communication skills, visit https://accents.co.za/ and get in touch with us for a free assessment today.