Global Practices

Communicate with Confidence: Five Ways to Become a Better Public Speaker

Hands-on Tactics People Can Use to Become Better Speakers



“I don’t like the spotlight.”
“I’m naturally shy.”
“I get tongue-tied in front of a crowd.”
“My face turns bright red when I stand up to present.”

These are just some of the many laments I hear when coaching clients to become more confident communicators. Believe it or not, there is actually a medical term for public speaking anxiety. If you suffer from “glossophobia,” or are looking to refine your public speaking skills, there are a few easy things you can start doing right away to combat your nerves.

  1. Know your material. This may be obvious, but it’s not always possible with tight schedules. The absolute best way to overcome your fear of public speaking is to practice, practice and practice some more. I’m not suggesting memorizing, but at least become very familiar with your main points. If pressed for time, spend a minimum of 15 minutes getting your introduction nailed. Most people are the most nervous at the beginning.
  2. Yoga breathing. This is something you want to do just before you get up on stage. Take three, deep belly breaths. Slowly inhale through the nose for a count of 10-to-15. Hold for 15 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth slowly, again for a count of 10-to-15. Repeat three times. This helps to calm your nerves and put you at ease before you begin.
  3. Find the friendly faces. Even if you have to “plant” someone in the audience when it’s an important presentation, look for the face that’s smiling and nodding. It’s all about building your confidence. The goal is to win over the grumps. But don’t focus on them until you’ve hit your stride!
  4. Keep in mind your audience wants you to succeed. We all think about ourselves when we’re presenting instead of thinking about the audience. We’re worried about forgetting something or stumbling over our words. Here’s the thing. The audience isn’t aware of what you planned to say. And every single person watching you wants you to be good. They’re rooting for a strong, snappy presenter, who’s not boring. They are not looking for your faults.
  5. Picture success. It may sound corny, but everyone needs to visualize success. I’ve coached hundreds of CEO’s, sales managers and technology whizzes over the past 10 years. Most of them are more nervous than they appear. So picture yourself as confident, calm and composed. The audience will follow your lead.

Mary Gannon is an executive vice president and head of media and presentation coaching in Chicago.

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