Today’s blog post has a simple message. Everyone wants to become a more confident presenter. But confidence is not something that just happens. It takes courage and practice to become more confident.
Confidence is the number one thing people who fear public speaking want to gain. "I want to become a confident presenter.” “I would like to gain confidence in front of an audience.” "I want to look like a confident speaker” “I want to feel more confident when speaking to an audience.”
These are all things that clients tell me. But many also tell me they avoid public speaking as much as possible! And that is having the opposite effect – it is eroding their confidence.
Public speaking is like any skill. The more you do it, the better you get. And the better you get, the more confident you feel. If you are avoiding public speaking, you won’t develop skills, and the thought of speaking gets scarier– making you even less likely to do it. And if you are waiting until you feel ready, guess what? That won’t happen!
So how can you break the cycle of avoidance and start doing it? You need two things – courage and practice.
It takes courage
You need courage, not confidence, to step outside of your comfort zone – over and over again. Once you start, you need to keep speaking. Look for opportunities, even if it is just speaking up at a meeting. If your opportunities are irregular or infrequent, consider joining a supportive community like Toastmasters.
I understand how hard this is for you. If you have been avoiding public speaking for a long time or experience extreme anxiety, I am asking you to do the thing that you dread. I suggest starting small in front of a friendly audience and working up to more challenging situations.
It takes practice
Like any skill, consistent hard work is the foundation of developing your public speaking skills. You have to put together, practice, give presentations, and learn from each. And this takes time and commitment. It is very easy to find excuses not to - especially when suffering from anxiety about speaking to an audience.
Six tips that will help keep you on track
Many things in life require courage or practice – but fewer need both! Playing tennis, learning to cook, and learning a language might require a little courage occasionally, but mostly rely on hard work. Bungy jumping, on the other hand, requires no skill (as long as you follow instructions!) but a ton of courage.
You can see why tackling your fear of public speaking is a big deal! If you have decided to do it, I have some tips to keep you on track.
Tip 1 - Take small steps and take them often.
Consistency is essential, and if there is a big gap between where you are and where you want to be, don’t look too far ahead. I had a client who described his public speaking aspirations as a staircase – he knew he wanted to get to the top of that staircase where he could speak at conferences to hundreds of people, but he felt that he was near the bottom step struggling to introduce himself at meetings. I liked that analogy but encouraged him to focus on getting to the next step rather than the top!
Try and do something every week – no matter how small. The confidence you gain from being courageous can quickly disappear if you take a break.
Tip 2 - Make public speaking a priority.
Even if you are not busy, it is hard to do something that takes courage and determination. If you have a packed schedule, like most of us, it will be much more challenging – and very tempting to tell yourself that you are too busy. You will need to make it a priority – a non-negotiable – at least until you get to a certain level of comfort.
Tip 3 - Celebrate your successes and learn from failures.
Our minds tend to dwell on negative experiences while downplaying the positive ones. I have had clients who put good experiences down to good luck “I was having a good day,” and bad experiences down to personal failings – “I am a terrible public speaker.” Counteract this negativity bias by consciously correcting for it. Learn from presentations that did not go well, but put them in perspective (no one else will remember!). And give yourself a massive pat on the back when things go well!
Tip 4 - Have some fun!
Just as playing a sport can be more enjoyable than going to the gym, you will remain more motivated if you can have some fun. But hang on a minute… How can public speaking possibly be fun?!... A good public speaking course will allow you to have fun and relax while gaining confidence. Speaking games, humour in speeches, and camaraderie can make a course an enjoyable experience!
Tip 5 - Hold yourself accountable.
It is human nature to prioritise what we have to do over what we choose to do. So how can you increase your chance of sticking to your public speaking goals? First, focus on the end goal – confidence – and what that will give you. Perhaps it will open up new career opportunities. Second, get someone else to hold you accountable. This could be your boss, colleague, or mentor. Preferably choose someone who will push you – rather than your partner or best friend who may go easy on you!
Tip 6 – Recognise your efforts.
Regularly take stock of your progress, even when modest, and acknowledge the courage and determination you have demonstrated.
For anyone serious about tackling their public speaking anxiety, I suggest the following two things:
First enrol in a public speaking course.
A course will give you a great start, and you should see some real progress. It is easy to prioritise something for a few weeks, especially if it has cost you money! And a good coach will make it fun, support you along the way, and make you feel great about your achievements. But when the course ends, it is easy to go backwards, which is why I also recommend step 2 for most people.
Next join Toastmasters
Toastmasters offers you ongoing opportunities to speak, learn and grow at your own pace. The positive and supportive environment makes it safe and enjoyable. You can also ask for a mentor who will help keep you accountable.
Can you do it on your own? Yes, with discipline, you can – especially if your job requires a lot of public speaking that is hard to avoid. If you are doing it on your own, I suggest finding a mentor, occasional private coaching, and/or asking your boss to make it part of your professional development goals to keep you on track.
Gaining confidence is a great aim, but confidence is the byproduct of hard work. First, you need courage – to step outside your comfort zone and start speaking. And second, you need to keep practising. Do these things, and the confidence will follow – I promise!
Written by Catherine Syme
Find out how private one-on-one coaching could help with your public speaking anxiety.
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.