On the last day of my internship, I called in sick. I had successfully navigated the technical challenge of a software engineering internship in a major corporation, but I couldn’t stomach what I had to do next.
They were asking way too much of me.
Fear. Anxiety. Loss of breath. The symptoms of my affliction were palpable.
What was I so afraid of? An awful performance review? A meeting with the CEO?
Nope. I was afraid of giving a 15 minute presentation. In front of just 10 people.
That’s right. My boss asked me to deliver a culminating speech about my time as an intern. But I just couldn’t do it due to a crippling fear of public speaking. The choice was obvious: I called in sick.
Maybe you’ve been held back in your career by shyness Or you’ve experienced this visceral, do-anything-to-get-out-of-it fear:
Right before I speak, my heart starts pounding, breath is short, and the fight or flight response is in full swing. The only thing that stops me from running away is I would be even more embarrassed than just doing it. User on Hacker News
Being famous doesn’t seem to spare anyone, either. The last thing you want is this awkward Michael Bay exit:
That story about calling in sick? That was 15 years ago. This year, I was a finalist in a Toastmasters humorous speech contest. How did I go from calling in sick because of speaking to looking forward to speaking in front of hundreds of people, all while absolutely enjoying it?
The typical advice by so-called “experts” on conquering this fear is to “talk about your passion” or “know your audience” or — my favorite — “practice, practice, practice!”
The problem with this conventional advice is that it (a) doesn’t address your core anxiety and (b) lacks concrete strategies and tactics. Sure, over the long-term, you absolutely need to practice if you want to hone the craft of speaking. But it doesn’t solve your immediate problem.
You’re looking for SPECIFIC STEPS you can take to utterly demolish your fear of public speaking.
This guide will teach you 4 unconventional steps to do just that–so you can vanquish your nerves, think on your feet, and speak with self-confidence.
1. Tell a story about just one thing
Lots of speakers get hung up on presentation delivery, which leads to anxiety, which leads to the inevitable feeling of wanting to jump off the stage before speaking.
Your brain is exploding with thoughts of “should I do this” and “what if I do that”, which scares the hell out of you. You’re experiencing:
- Information overload. You get overwhelmed by too much data.
- Style overload. You focus on delivery instead of the key message.
- Decision overload. You’re paralyzed by too many decisions–the paradox of choice
- Knowledge overload. The Curse of Knowledge cognitive bias that you already know so much about the topic, it’s impossible to imagine not knowing.
The unconventional secret is that you don’t need to be polished, poised, smooth, charismatic, smart, talented, or even speak English well. In fact, you will have an advantage by deliberately not focusing on these.
Check out the results of this Stanford experiment:
“Almost no correlation emerges between ‘speaking talent’ and the ability to make ideas stick…The stars of stickiness are the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten…A community college student for whom English is a second language could easily outperform unwitting Stanford graduate students.”
–From “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath
Stories, emotion, and simplicity are massively more important than presentation at getting your idea across. And those things are much easier and less nerve-wracking to tap into than so-called speaking talent.
So keep it simple! Pick just one thing and talk about it from the heart, like you would over lunch with a friend.
- Write a story. Something you’re passionate about. Think about a favorite memory with your family or friends, and write about the people there, what you did, and how you felt. This is real-life, built-in drama.
- Tell the story: in front of a mirror, by yourself in front of a camera, or in front of your spouse or best friend.
- The next time you give a presentation, just tell a story about one point and appeal to the listener’s emotions. Forget about style!
No matter how alluring you are, the typical, bloated, meandering speech will get crushed by one compelling story any day, no matter how the story is delivered.
2. Take an improv class to fake fearless
If you’re standing in front of a crowd, act as if you already have confidence. Walk chest high, chin up, and breathe deeply (more breathing in Step #4). Imagine the audience is there to beg you for your autograph.
Teddy Roosevelt writes in his autobiography:
“When a boy, I read a passage [in which] the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that he course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he were not frightened. After this is kept up long enough, it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.”
Easier said than done, right?
Here’s how: take an improv class. Nothing will get you to act fearless and build tons of confidence more than being put on the spot. Look at this reddit comment:
- Go to Google Maps and search for “improv classes” near you.
- Sign up for a minimum 4-session class for beginners.
- Attend the class and learn to fake confidence to become confident.
Even if you’re scared to death, pretend you’re not by using what you learn in an improv class. You’ll “become fearless” by faking fearless.
3. Use the ‘Broody Hen’ technique
You’ll love this strategy. Introverts will eat this one up. This is what I call the Broody Hen technique.
Just like a hen broods (sits on) and hatches her eggs, you sit on your topic and hatch the most amazing ideas from the safety of your comfortable, private space.
Abraham Lincoln wrote his most memorable speeches this way, not once practicing in front of others before it was go time. Lincoln became best friends with his material, but more importantly relied on this introspective, private ritual of brooding and hatching–rather than practice–to deliver his speeches with supreme confidence:
“He thought over his talk for days, thought over it while walking back and forth between the White House and the war office…he wrote a rough draft of it on a piece of foolscap paper, and carried it about in the top of his tall silk hat. Ceaselessly he was brooding over it, ceaselessly it was taking shape.”
After one of these brooding periods, Lincoln stayed at a tavern in Illinois. Upon waking up, his first words were, “This government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free.” Now that’s a line.
- Buy a small Moleskine notebook and carry it with you at all times.
- Schedule time every day just to brood–set your alarm 30 minutes earlier if you’re freshest in the morning.
- During your “brooding” time, write down notes, fragments, and lists in your notebook that relate to your talk.
- Keep writing your ideas down whenever they occur, any time of day or night.
- Let the ideas marinate and “hatch”–the longer the better (at least 1 day if possible).
- Go through your notes and pick the best ones for your presentation.
- Arrange, revise, re-write, and edit into a final speech.
- You now have such an intimate understanding of your topic, confidence won’t be an issue.
The “Broody Hen” technique is guaranteed to take the edge off those nerves like a fine snifter of well-aged whiskey.
4. Shut up (or, perfect the pause)
Pause. Breathe. Pause some more. Repeat.
Silence is the most powerful content in any speech. A solid, deliberate pause in your delivery:
- Ramps up audience anticipation
- Enhances the credibility of the speaker
- Commands attention and respect to heighten authority
- Ensures listener attention–a psychological equalizer
Pause before you speak. Pause between sentences. Pause between words. You can’t do it enough. Even if you think you’re pausing too often or for too long, you’re not.
To make it easy to pause, I like to use a speech hack called the Stanza Strategy.
Winston Churchill said that “every speech is a rhymeless, meterless verse.” In poetry, a group of lines (Churchill’s “verse”) is called a stanza. With the Stanza Strategy, you write out your speech like a poem, with very short lines – creating frequent pause points.
Here’s what a stanza looks like:
My heart from the hum of a humming bird
To the steady beat of a drum it spurred
My nerves slowly disappear
Everyone is listening including the rear
By using this technique, you will improve your pausing, pacing, and presence in no time. It will instantly improve the rhythm of your speech and help you avoid those breathless I-just-ran-a-10K-run-on-sentences.
- Write out your speech in your favorite text editor.
- Hit the Enter key after every 5 to 8 words, IGNORING punctuation.
- Add a blank line between every sentence or paragraph. This is a stanza.
- Practice in front of a mirror. Make sure to PAUSE after each line and LONG PAUSE after each stanza.
- Deliver your speech this way, and you’ll come across as extra confident.
Pausing is an awesome way to slow it down, take a breath (literally), and calm those nerves. Which translate to–you guessed it–more confidence.
Put these steps to use and you’ll be far ahead of the pack when it comes to speaking confidence. Let the community know what you think in the comments below. What’s holding you back? Have you tried any of these techniques, and did they work for you?
This post originally appeared at HowToAttainSuccess.com