As someone who regularly speaks at conferences and events around the country, I’m always being asked by people how it is that I seem so comfortable even in front of thousands of people. Honestly, I have no answer for that, other than that I just am. I’ve always been an extrovert and eager to get in front of crowds, but I understand many are not. That’s why I’m writing this article, to give you some tips on how you can face and conquer your fear of public speaking.
Start Small and Work Your Way Up
I wasn’t just randomly chosen to speak at big time conferences from the start. In fact, I was speaking at small events for years before I was ever even on the radar for an event like Adobe MAX. Had I been thrown onto one of those big stages before I was ready, my comfort level might not be as high as it is today. If you’re having trouble with getting up in front of large crowds, just start small. Volunteer at a local meetup or user group in your area and do a quick demo or monologue.
Small events are great prep for larger ones and they give you a more intimate connection with your audience. I’ve also learned that small audiences also tend to give the best feedback afterwards. I think this is because they perceive you to be more real by attending their event, whereas you look like some sort of unapproachable monolith on stage at some big conference like SXSW.
Practice Makes Perfect
There are many ways to practice your public speaking without actually speaking in public. Gather some friends or family in a room and speak to them. Make sure that it’s only the few people that you are truly comfortable with, though. You want to make sure that you’re on the verge of conversation in a practice session like that. This will help you be more relatable on a big stage later on.
Another method that I used many times was to record myself talking. I didn’t have anyone else in the room with me, I just sat down and recorded myself talking about something. After I finished speaking I would play it back and analyze anything in my speech patterns that made me feel uncomfortable. For me, it was more about my accent and inability to pronounce certain words clearly that hung me up at first. Luckily I was able to work on that over time and overcome those things. If you’re comfortable and confident in your own voice it will show through in your speaking and others will share in your confidence as well.
My final method of practice was to do podcasts. Putting my podcast on the internet gave me a voice in the community and also a target on my back. In many ways the podcast served a dual purpose, because not only did it help me gain recognition amongst peers and decision makers, but it also taught me how to have thick skin when it came to harsh criticism, which is something most people fear most about speaking in public.
Get in Shape
I’m dead serious about this one. Before I lost all of my weight two years ago, I was always insecure about the way I looked prior to going on stage, and I think that was reflected in a lot of my sessions. Once I dropped the weight I was able to forget about my physical appearance and just focus on the content that I was delivering. This was a very freeing experience for me. I didn’t have to wonder if they were judging me because I was fat, because I knew I looked better than ever and I was confident that I was going to blow them away.
Although it’s very sad, there is also another aspect that comes along with getting in better shape that no one seems to tell you about. Right after I started losing a ton of weight I was contacted by a company (who shall remain nameless) that wanted me to come and teach an online class for them. This was huge for me at the time because I had been out of the “spotlight” for a few years at that point and had been trying to break back into the business for a while. When I met with the company one of the employees told me that it wasn’t until they saw that I had my health issues under control and that I would photograph well on camera that they decided to offer me the gig. Right away I was shocked, somewhat offended, and deeply hurt by this statement. However, after thinking about it, deep down I think I understood where they were coming from.
Learn to Meditate
While I don’t practice it near as often as I should, meditation is something I started experimenting with while I studied Buddhism back during my college years. Meditation is so relaxing and it allows you to really focus on breathing and clearing your mind. If you struggle with anxiety about public speaking, I think learning to meditate and finding a mantra that serves you well will go a long way towards helping you conquer that fear. Especially if you can do it right before you go on stage. Find yourself a quiet room or go outside and sit somewhere peaceful and just clear your head. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel when you step on that stage.
Public speaking might not be for everyone, and that’s ok. However, I know there are some people that crave the ability to get up in front of people and do whatever it is they like to do. Hopefully this article has given you some insight into my personal process for preparing to speak publicly, and I also hope that it has given you some ideas on how you can confront and overcome your fears as well. Thanks for reading!