When most people think about a fear of speaking, they are usually thinking about getting up in front of a large group and addressing the crowd. It’s true that many people have anxiety about public speaking, but the truth is that just as many people struggle with one-on-one interactions. Learning how to speak with confidence is a skill set which can be applied to all levels of communication.
It can be intimidating, knowing that you have an important speech, meeting or presentation coming up. When you ought to be focusing on the subject matter, and getting your point across effectively, instead you are focusing on the fears surrounding it. Try using some of the tips outlined in this guide to help boost your confidence, improve your speaking skills, and approach your conversations is a new and effective way.
Try a Few Practice Runs
A lot of the nervousness you feel leading up to a speech might simply be feelings of unpreparedness. Obviously, knowing your subject matter inside and out is critical, but there are other important ways in which to practice ahead of time. Something as simple as going to the space in which you are expected to speak can take a lot of the looming mystery out of it. In your head, you may be picturing a much larger space than the one you will actually be in. Seeing it in person can dispel a lot of that fear.
Secondly, actually saying the words out loud can be a good chance for you to catch yourself in any mistakes. A lot of times, what we think a prepared piece will sound like in our heads is slightly off from the way it actually sounds when spoken. Listen to yourself, or ask a friend to listen to you, and suss out those tricky spots.
If you are more of a visual person, go ahead and video yourself giving the talk. You can then go back and assess everything from your volume, to talking speed, to body language. This can be a really great tool for helping you feel more prepared. You can approach the talk with confidence, because you have already seen the outcome.
Speak With Conviction
This is a great rule to apply from everything to the smallest conversation, to a public address going out to hundreds of people. The more resolute you can sound, the more likely your intended audience is to understand and respect what you are saying. They may not agree all the time, and that is fine. The fact that you spoke unequivocally and evenly is enough to ensure that you have made your point.
Avoid saying things like “I think that…”, or “I guess…”, or “Maybe…”, because these words make it sound like you are unsure, or wishy-washy about making a point. This can give others an invitation to argue with you, or tune out from what you are saying. Especially when speaking in a professional or educational setting, it is important that you sound sure of yourself. This can happen simply by changing up your speech patterns. Use phrases like “It is true…”, “I know for a fact…”, and “I am certain…”. These are strong terms which leave little wiggle room.
Make Eye Contact
If you are nervous about speaking to someone, especially a superior, or a potential business partner, it is typical to want to avoid eye making contact. Sometimes, people can feel tripped up, or flustered when looking someone in the eyes, and avoiding doing so just feels easier. Needless to say, this can lead to someone feeling ignored, or confused by what you’re saying. Worse yet, it can be considered rude.
A good way to get around this is to practice making eye contact in little ways. With the cashier at the grocery store, with the mail carrier, with people you pass on the street. It doesn’t have to be leering – just a pleasant acknowledgement of the other person. It may also help to think of the other person’s eyes as just another focal point.
If eye contact really does feel too intense to you, it is okay to look into another person’s eyes for a few seconds, and then look away. If you are discussing a report, it may be helpful to have a copy in your hands, which you can then draw their eyes to. This keeps your audience engaged, while also giving you a break from the aspect of the conversation that’s making you the most nervous.
A lot of tension can be diffused by simply smiling at your audience. Whether it’s one coworker, or an entire board room, smiling lets people know that you are not about to address them in a confrontational or negative way. Often, when we are dreading a conversation, we may go into it with a grim attitude, no matter how light the subject matter is in reality. It could be something as simple as asking for a change in your vacation schedule, but if you are nervous about it, you may unwittingly be sending out vibes that you are about to discuss something dire.
Smiling also helps you get into the mindset of calming down, and remaining pleasant. A more relaxed speaker leads to a more relaxed audience, which then further relaxes you, etc. It’s a good opener, and a good thing to do occasionally throughout your talk.
Make Sure You Can be Heard
Try this experiment. Have a friend sit at the back of a room, while you stand at the front. Begin addressing your friend at the volume you intend to deliver your speech at, and see if they can hear you comfortably. If you don’t have a willing test audience available, try putting your phone at the back of the room, and see if a recording program can pick up your voice. If not, it’s time to practice projecting your voice a bit more.
Conversely, some of us might tend to inadvertently yell when we feel nervous. It’s true that everyone can hear you, but you might seem a little silly shouting at people. Get a good feel of where your speaking volume should be, and practice. A good, even tone is best. That way, people are free to focus on what you say, and not how you are saying it.
Go Easy on Yourself
Chances are, you are already pretty good at communicating. In relaxed conversations with friends and family, it probably comes naturally. The trouble is, when fear gets in the way, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you keep thinking “I am going to mess this up,” then you are more likely to do just that. Try to pick out an aspect of speaking you know you’re good at. Can you always get a laugh? Do people often tell you that you are very nice? That you have a pleasant voice? Start from here, and begin to build your confidence.
Your audience is more perceptive than you may think, so visualizing and believing that you are already good at speaking will help you project that attitude. Attitude is a big part of the confidence puzzle, so always try to begin from a positive place. It is okay – even healthy – to pay yourself compliments. You will get more out of your speech when you approach it with confidence.