Overcome your fear of public speaking
Babel Talen is the official language partner of Utrecht University, offering individual and group Dutch courses, from introductory to advanced levels.
Speaking in public remains a challenge and even a fear for many of us. No matter what your occupation, public speaking will always make an appearance and the further you advance in your career, the more often you will be asked to give a presentation, a speech, or even a toast. Public speaking is an activity worth undertaking, so let’s explore how you can overcome this anxiousness.
If you think back to the first time you gave a speech or a presentation, you may be greeted by feelings of uneasiness and nervousness, amongst others. More commonly than not, public speaking is seen as this big monster that is hard to beat. Thankfully, oratory is a skill that can be practiced and improved over time, as not everyone is lucky enough to be born with this raw talent.
Personally, I have always felt public speaking was for those who were confident, opinionated, and outgoing. Growing up, I thought I was none of these things, but I always admired people who could deliver a great speech. Secretly, I always hoped I could compete in my high school’s annual public speaking contest.
Only students in the 11th and 12th grade were allowed to compete, so when I reached the 10th grade, I knew I needed to start preparing. My family were all aware of my wish, so they motivated me to start giving short speeches at home.
I was incredibly shy and insecure about both my English skills - my mother tongue is Spanish - and oratory skills, but I decided to give it a try. I would stand before a microwave pretending it was a podium and deliver my speeches. Afterwards, my family would give me some constructive feedback.
Fast-forward to the 11th grade. I started to feel the pressure since this was the year I would face my fear. However, to my dismay, my high school decided to permanently stop the public speaking contest. My feelings were all juxtaposed, as I was disappointed but at the same time somewhat relieved I didn't have to put myself out there.
A few months later, after I had just put on an English play about Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, my English teachers approached me and asked me to give a speech based on the same book at an interschool public speaking competition. This was it; this was my chance to prove to myself that I could do it.
So, without a doubt, I said it would be my honour to represent my school at such an event. Immediately after I had said those words, negative thoughts and scenarios started playing in my head.
Thanks to teachers, friends, and family, I managed to put a stop to those feelings, and slowly I started to believe in myself and in my ability to give a speech more. I practiced writing and giving speeches at school and at home, and the more I practiced, the better I felt. On the day of the competition, I was able to deliver my speech, and even though I didn’t make the top three, it is still one of the proudest moments of my life.
You see, what’s key in becoming a good orator is not delivering a perfect speech, it’s being willing to put yourself out there, learn from your mistakes, and always going back to that stage no matter what your previous experience has been.
On your way to success
If you feel you haven’t been successful in public speaking, it is crucial that you give yourself some credit for all the effort that you’ve already put into this area. In preparation for any future public speaking endeavours, I would like to give you the following tips:
Talk it out and find support
If you are nervous about delivering a speech or presentation, it may help to talk about it with someone you trust. Having someone be your sounding board can be of extreme help as you can analyse what makes you feel this way and tackle the problem. Moreover, someone else may be able to help you see your strengths, and whether you are underestimating yourself.
Remember that those around you, including your audience, want the best for you. If they have decided to attend your presentation and listen to your speech, it is because they want to see you succeed.
Keep in mind that behind every great orator, there is a great team. If you are interested in finding a group to help you hone your oratory skills, you might want to consider Toastmasters International. This is an international organisation that aims to help individuals become better leaders and public speakers.
I was fortunate enough to be a member of one of their Chicago clubs and learned invaluable lessons and tips that have helped me on my way to becoming a better public speaker. Toastmasters International is present in several cities in the Netherlands.
Observe and learn from the best
It’s safe to say that we all know and look up to someone who is a master at public speaking. What all these people have in common is that they have all learned from someone they also admire. You’ve just got to find a speaker you like and analyse what it is that makes them so great and special. Once you have identified these qualities, you can try and see which techniques work best for you and fit your personal style.
Practice, practice and more practice
There are many ways to practice your oratory skills; you’ve got to be patient and not be afraid of trying different approaches. If you have a speech coming up, go ahead and deliver it under the shower; this can be a relaxing setting, plus it might even give you some more inspiration to come up with better ideas.
You could also try recording yourself (video or audio). No one else has to watch or listen to you deliver your speech; this is for only for you, so that you an analyse what you do well and what you could do better. Focus on important aspects, such as your non-verbal communication and the use of your voice.
There are many online resources that deal with these areas, for instance, you could watch Julian Treasure’s terrific TED talk on how to use the power of your voice or Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on how our body language may shape who we are.
As a final tip on how to overcome your fear of public speaking, you may want to follow one of Babel’s communication or presenting courses. These focus on hands-on exercises and interactive activities to help you grow into a more confident, well-rounded orator.