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How to Look Calm Speaking in Front of an Audience

Updated on March 20, 2017
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I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

You can be a confident speaker by following a few simple steps before and during your moment in the spotlight. Even if you have stage fright, there are things you can do to look calm in front of your audience.

When all eyes are on you, projecting confidence is key to your public speaking success!
When all eyes are on you, projecting confidence is key to your public speaking success!

Even though many people will try to avoid giving speeches, the truth is that over the course of a lifetime, there are many times when we are called upon to address an audience. Being a strong pubic speaker isn't just a useful skill to have when you are looking for work, being a strong public speaker can actually strengthen your relationships, enrich your life, and connect you to what truly matters to you. Here are several occasions when you might need to summon the courage to speak in front of an audience:

  • Giving or accepting a community service award
  • Toasting a cherished friend or family member on a special occasion: wedding, birthday, anniversary, retirement party
  • Speaking at a loved one's funeral or memorial service
  • Addressing a politician at a town hall meeting
  • Giving a farewell speech to staff when you leave a job to persue new opportunities

Some interesting facts about performance anxiety:

  • The fear of public speaking is known as Glossophobia
  • Percentage of people who identify as having speech anxiety: 74%
  • Number of Americans who have a social phobia: 5.3 Million
  • Number of Americans who have a fear of crowded or public places: 3.2 Million


Source: statisticsbrain.com

You don't have to climb to the top of Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone to be blessed with the gift of the gab.
You don't have to climb to the top of Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone to be blessed with the gift of the gab.

Whatever the occasion, being nervous about giving a speech or oral presentation is really quite normal. Many people are afraid of speaking in public, yet they find ways to combat their fears and anxieties and end up giving wonderfully rich and entertaining speeches.

Nervousness, anxiety and stage fright are all common feelings for people who are just learning how to speak in public.

The good news is that feeling a little nervous before a speech is a sign that you care about what you have to say. It means you want to give your audience an enjoyable and informative experience. If you are worried about your next oral presentation, here are some tips and quotes to help you reduce nervousness before and during your speech.

1. Understand your material. If you're not familiar with the content of your speech, you’re more likely to stumble, forget your “lines” and look anxious. Try to do more than just memorize sentences, word for word; think critically about what you're saying. For example, if your audience knew nothing at all about the topic of your speech, would they still be able to follow along? Have you cut out jargon and used plain language throughout your speech? Are the examples, anecdotes and stories you’ve included relevant to the topic? Or do they just fill up space?

It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. -- Mark Twain

2. Visualize yourself delivering a magnificent speech. Don’t just practice your speech, close your eyes and imagine yourself giving your speech to an enthusiastic and interested audience. Conjure up mental images of walking up on stage while the audience welcomes you with applause. Picture yourself owning the front of the room. It’s yours and yours alone. You are in command and you have the confidence to deliver your speech with ease.

3. Scope out the space where you will be speaking. Whether you are speaking to an audience in a small boardroom or a grand ballroom, being familiar with your 'stage' ahead of time can help reduce feelings of nervousness. Be sure to arrive early. Walk around the room and up to the space where you'll be giving your presentation. Stand at the lectern or microphone and look out to where the audience will be seated. Will it be an intimate audience of a dozen or so people sitting not more than a few feet away from you? Or is there a big gap separating you from your audience? Know the shape, size and acoustics of the room so that you can moderate your vocal level as needed.

4. Get to know the audience. If you can, greet your audience members as they arrive. Ask them questions. Be curious about why they are at your presentation and what they are interested in learning. It’s much easier to talk to a group of people you know -- even tangentially -- than it is to address an audience made up of nameless strangers.

A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.

— Margaret Atwood
What you say on stage is just as important as how you treat your audience before and after your speaking engagement.
What you say on stage is just as important as how you treat your audience before and after your speaking engagement.

5. Relax and try to remember why your audience is there. Hopefully, you should have a strong belief that what you are saying is important and valuable to your audience. If you don’t, then you might want to revisit point # 1.

6. If you make a mistake, let it slide. Don’t apologize or point out your own mistakes. Believe it or not, once your speech is underway, your nervousness will hardly show unless you to point out a mistake. Is there a slide missing in your presentation? Don't make a big deal about it and no one will notice. Just keep going.

7. Be thankful for the opportunity to speak. Not only do you want to thank your audience for coming to hear your speech, give thanks inwardly for the chance to improve your speaking skills. It doesn't matter if you think you did well or you that you bumbled your way through your speech, remind yourself that every time you get up in front an audience, you're gaining public speaking experience. You're moving closer and closer to your goal of becoming a confident, articulate and engaging speaker. Everyone knows that the only way to get to Carnegie Hall is to "practice, practice, practice!"

(Referenced: Toastmasters International)

If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?

— Confucius

Why are you afraid to speak in front of an audience?

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© 2012 Sally Hayes

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  • PublicSpeaker profile image

    PublicSpeaker 4 years ago from Washington, D.C.

    Nice post--useful!

  • prasetio30 profile image

    prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

    Public speaking is important to increase our self confidence. Not all of us can do this. But you came up with solutions and useful tips. I learn many things from you. Thanks for writing and share with us. Rated up (useful, awesome, interesting). Take care!

    Prasetio

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