How to Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking — Lionesses of Africa

by Lori Milner

As much as you dread public speaking and presentations, this is one of your most incredible opportunities to demonstrate value and catapult yourself in your career. If it’s not your strong suit, you’ll shift away from speaking opportunities and convince yourself you’re an introvert or prefer to be behind the scenes. How can you shift your perspective and develop these skills, whether conversing with a few people, presenting to your team or addressing an auditorium? Here are seven things to consider:

How did you label the opportunity?

How do you label the situation internally when you’re asked to present something to your team or a bigger group? Do you tell yourself it’s going to be awful and dread it? Do you panic about being judged or not being perfect? In those first few moments, you’ve created the energy for how you will show up for this talk.

If you do get anxious, notice it and get curious. What about the situation are you afraid of? What part makes you uncomfortable? When I have situations that throw me a curve ball, I ask myself – how can I make this the best talk I’ve ever done? I also use fear as fuel and remind myself that I’m uncomfortable because this is the next level of my growth.

Self-doubt is not a sign that you should abort the opportunity; it’s an awareness that you’re about to move out of your comfort zone. Your internal dialogue and how you narrate your story will be the difference between rising to the challenge or letting fear take over.

Be aware of potentially placing too much pressure on the outcome. Do you create the story that a simple fifteen-minute presentation to the team determines the future of your career? Then no wonder you will do anything to avoid these situations. You’re the narrator – choose a better story.

What is your self-talk?

Once you’ve labelled the opportunity in your mind, place your self-talk under a microscope. Is it positive and encouraging or critical and destructive? The most important conversations you have are the ones you have with yourself. You’re already nervous as it is, don’t summon the inner critic to make you feel worse. What you communicate to yourself significantly impacts how you project yourself to the rest of the world.

Remind yourself that you are presenting because you have valuable information to share. You are the subject matter expert, and you are there to add value. Encourage yourself to relax, take some deep breaths and tell yourself you’ve got this. When the message is perfect, you don’t have to be.

Forgive yourself if you made a mistake or the nerves took over, and you forgot to mention something. Remember, no one knows what you were meant to say but you.

Develop a learning mindset and ask yourself how you can improve next time. What did you learn? Beating yourself up and telling yourself you’re pathetic will not help you develop this muscle. To set your future self up for success, you need to master this skill today.

Own your physical presence.

People start sizing up your physical presence the second you enter any room. Your body language accounts for 55% of non-verbal communication – think about how confidently you walked in. How firmly did you shake hands? Even online, is your camera on? Are you smiling? Are you sitting upright or slumped into the chair?

No matter how nervous you are, use your body language to boost your physiology. Social scientist, Any Cuddy did research that revealed standing in a power pose for two minutes (like the wonder woman pose or the victory pose when a runner crosses the finish line with arms raised) boosts your testosterone and lowers your cortisol levels.

Before your presentation or conversation, stand in a power pose for two minutes – preferably in private and let your body do the work for you. If it sounds crazy, I encourage you to watch her TED talk. Even if you’re terrified inside, own the room by bringing certainty in your body language – shoulders back, head up and smile.

Preparation is the antidote to anxiety.

Before preparing your content, take a step back and think about your audience. If you’re presenting to your team, a client or a packed auditorium, take a moment and reflect on what they need to hear and what will be most important to them. Tune into their frequency of ‘what’s in it for me?’. Even if you’re presenting internally, how will your information benefit that specific division?

Preparation is equally about how you want to feel when you deliver your message. To calm your anxiety, practice saying your content as much as possible in advance. I like to use pockets of time in my day, such as driving time or when I’m getting ready to get comfortable saying the words out loud.

Maybe you need to have a courageous conversation; what does it feel like to say the words out loud? Have you considered the tone? Maybe you want a raise. Have you practised asking for the number you want? Are you coming across as confident or apologetic?

Not all presentations are created equally, and not all require PowerPoint. Having said that, if a PowerPoint is required, create a compelling slide deck if you are presenting to an external audience. It should be a visual masterpiece for your audience with beautiful images and few words, not designed for you to remember your talk.

One piece of advice I came across in Akash Karia’s book on ‘How to Deliver a Great TED Talk, – “If you and the slide are saying the same thing, then one of you is not needed.” Is the slide there to help you remember your content or to benefit the audience?

Visualise the desired result.

Apart from physically preparing, you can also use the tool of visualisation. Spend some time on your own where you won’t be distracted to close your eyes and see yourself going through the talk from start to finish in your mind.

The more emotion you can bring to the visualisation, the more powerful it becomes. Focus on the feeling you bring into the room and how you feel after. Imagine the audience smiling, fully engaged and clapping at the end. You could imagine the client signing the deal or placing the order you are pitching for.

It’s not about being perfect, but what energy do you want to show up with? The more you do this, the more certainty you can bring to the situation.

Visualisation is common for athletes; Olympic champion Michael Phelps did this consistently before his competitions and rehearsed every element of his swim mentally. He successfully completed his race and took gold before diving into the pool.

Congratulate yourself.

The way to build confidence is to acknowledge your success. Incremental wins over time build evidence for who you are becoming. You must internalise and truly acknowledge yourself to feel confident for the next presentation.

Courage supersedes confidence based on evidence of taking action and creating micro wins. You have to prove to yourself you can do it, not think your way to confidence. Did you show up despite the nerves? Make sure you give yourself credit and not minimise the accomplishment. It may seem insignificant, but it was a huge victory for you.

This becomes the starting point for the next opportunity, not returning to your career’s beginning.

You’re not an imposter.

If you take one thing from this article, please let it be this – the moment you give yourself significance is when your public speaking phobia disappears. Why? If you don’t believe in yourself or believe you’re not enough, you will constantly seek approval from others and live in imposter syndrome.

When you don’t back yourself, every presentation becomes a new opportunity to attempt to prove your worth, and it’s exhausting. When you believe I am enough and deserve to be here, you will walk into any situation fully charged. You aren’t this battery flashing in the red, hoping someone else can charge you.

How do you get to this place of charging your own battery? Go back to the beginning of the article – use kind self-talk, create certainty in your body, engage in deliberate practice, visualise the perfect result, acknowledge your wins and most importantly, know that you are enough.

Final thoughts.

Public speaking or difficult conversations are never going away. How you approach them will make the difference between sleepless nights or opportunities to grow and conquer a fear.

As my late father always used to tell me: “It’s fine to have butterflies, as long as they fly in formation”. Here’s to showing up fully charged,

Warm wishes


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