It’s often reported that most people are more afraid of public speaking than of death. Even many experienced speakers admit they still get nervous before speaking. Stage fright can significantly weaken speaking ability, and the anticipation of stage fright only makes matters worse. But there are ways to transform that nervous energy into useful and positive energy that can make your presentation more dynamic.
Be prepared. Know your topic inside and out. Study your audience as well: Who will be there? Does the group claim a common identity or shared values you can appeal to? What does the audience want to hear? Being mentally prepared will boost your confidence.
Practice. Practice in front of friends or family and take their advice seriously. Practice in front of a mirror to improve your gestures, posture, and body movements. If you can arrange it, use a video camera and record yourself to see how you can improve.
Make a checklist. Inventory what you need before the day of the speech so you won’t forget things and can focus on performing rather than panicking at the last minute.
Check out the space. Check to see that the technology you’re using is compatible with your presentation space, that the podium is at the right height, and that all the equipment works.
Dress confidently. Dress slightly better than you anticipate your audience will dress. This will help you build authority and credibility.
Stand up straight. Stand up straight with legs in a confident, slightly wide stance. Acting strong will make you feel more confident and help you build rapport with your audience.
Make eye contact. Try to establish and maintain eye contact with your whole audience, but keep in mind that a blank stare or hostile glowering is as bad as no eye contact at all.
Read your audience. Connect with your audience through eye contact and humor, and adapt to their body language. Building a relationship with your audience will strengthen your confidence.
Work it out. Transfer your nervous energy into physical energy. Don’t waste it. Excite your crowd through body movement, interaction with the audience, and voice inflection.
Hold something. Instead of pacing up and down, tapping your foot, or shaking your hands, have something small in your hand that you can squeeze (unnoticeably) to relieve any nervous energy. This could be a paperclip, poker chip, or note with a quote for your speech. However, make sure your audience never sees the object.
When things go wrong. Technical problems are unpredictable but frequent, so be prepared to give your presentation without slides or a microphone if need be. If a problem arises during your speech, act confident and move on. If a member of your audience is disruptive or rude, maintain your temper and treat him or her with the utmost professionalism. That way, you will win the audience’s respect and sympathy. If you make a mistake, laughing it off, rather than dwelling on it or over apologizing, will help you connect with your audience.