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Tips for Overcoming a Fear of Public Speaking


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Megaphone-freeRecently, I was asked to be a panelist for a webinar about using the power of publicity to achieve your goals. The participants asked great questions.

The first: “How do you step into the spotlight when you don’t like the spotlight?”

Getting media attention and speaking engagements — the spotlight — goes right to the heart of my book, Celebritize Yourself. By boosting your visibility and your credibility, you set yourself apart from your competition and become a trusted authority in your field.

Should you abandon that avenue if you don’t like the spotlight?

Absolutely not

I was – and still am – that person. I had no desire to seek the spotlight, and even had trepidation about it, but eventually I realized I had to for the sake of my business.

First I had to figure out why I was so uncomfortable with the idea of being in the spotlight.

The answer for me was simple: The thought of public speaking terrified me. I’d seen wonderful speakers, including my own brother, who could captivate huge audiences and have them hanging on every word. I knew I didn’t have that kind of talent so why bother even trying?

Because, as I came to realize, I had to. I needed to do it in order to grow my business and, on a deeper level, I needed to do it for me! My fear was holding me back – an admission that became increasingly painful as time marched on.

I talked to my brother about the problem. “It comes naturally to you and the other great speakers I’ve seen,” I told him. “But it doesn’t come naturally to me!”

His response surprised me.

“No, it doesn’t all come naturally,” he said. “I had to work at it.”

For years, he spoke to small audiences at seminars. They proved an ideal training ground. He critiqued himself and got feedback from others so that he could constantly polish his delivery.

So, first tip:

Start small. Give yourself time to get used to the spotlight.

Here are a few more tips for public speaking.

Know your material. You won’t feel comfortable speaking if you don’t thoroughly know your material. How do actors and Olympic athletes make their feats look so easy? They practice! That doesn’t mean memorizing a speech, which can lack enthusiasm and leaves little room for spontaneity. Know your key talking points, the anecdotes or other means you’ll use to illustrate them, and how you will smoothly segue from one point to the next.

Energize! Positive energy is contagious – if you’re upbeat, excited and passionate about your message, chances are, your audience will be, too. And you’ll be surprised about the positive cycle that creates: An enthusiastic audience can pump up your energy even more! Use hand gestures to illustrate points and, when appropriate, smile, smile, smile.

Make eye contact. Find friendly, receptive faces in the audience and speak to them. Making eye contact with individuals helps prevent you staring off into the distance or reading from notes. It also helps make you feel like you’re engaging in a conversation rather than speaking to a group. I’ve found that visually touching base with engaged audience members gives me little shots of confidence that help propel me through my presentation.

Look your best! When you look great you feel great and that makes you stand taller and exude confidence. Speaking engagements aren’t the best place to break in a new outfit. Instead, wear clothing and shoes you feel good in and that are appropriate to the setting – you can’t go wrong with business formal. Simple is fine, but you should look crisp and polished from head to toe.

A fear of the spotlight shouldn’t prevent you from getting the visibility and credibility that can build your brand and your business. Remember – you’re not alone. The fear of public speaking is said to be one of the top 10 fears worldwide!

If I can overcome it, so can you.

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marsha Friedman is a 23-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to businesses, professional firms, entertainers and authors. Marsha is the author of Celebritize Yourself. Follow her on Twitter: @marshafriedman