Don’t let public speaking anxiety hold you back!

You wouldn’t think the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, has a problem with shyness and public speaking anxiety, but according to an interview with Vogue, she does. She found it hard to stay at parties and social gatherings for more than a few minutes, but found out giving herself a timeline worked to overcome her social anxiety. Mayer’s strategy is simple: “I will literally look at my watch and say, ‘You can’t leave until time x, and if you’re still having a terrible time at time x, you can leave.’ ” Once she gets over her self-imposed time limit, she says that she “gets over her anxiety and has fun.”

Public speaking should be fun. You’re the center of attention and all eyes are on you! Many people in sales are phenomenally confident in conversation, making a pitch over a phone meeting or delivering a fantastic sales presentation to a couple of people in a room. However, some of the best places to cultivate new leads are conferences, and public speaking to a group requires an entirely different set of chops.

Conferences provide limitless opportunities for reach, so public speaking anxiety is a very real concern that may be hurting your professional growth in the long run.

Here are some practical tips to overcome public speaking anxiety and refuse to let it hold you back:

Give yourself some time to warm up

Sometimes the biggest hurdle comes in the first few moments of doing something that causes us anxiety. When people are nervous, they imagine how hard it’s going to be to get up on that stage. That’s classic stage fright. Chances are, you’ll be able to take a breath and get through it just fine! So how do you stop anticipating it and building the anxiety?

Use the Marissa Mayer approach, above. If you know you have a big presentation coming up in a month or two, try scheduling smaller meetings and presentations in increasing amounts to build up your comfort level. Just like Mayer, if you can get past just 5 minutes and then build up to 15, you can walk into your larger presentation, knowing you will find your rhythm and make it as long as it takes.

Less is more

If you’ve watched TED Talks, you might notice that the presentations are quite simple and the speakers stay calm and focused throughout, whether they are seasoned presenters or business people just like you. An excellent pro tip you can take from this example to cut down on public speaking anxiety is to simplify what happens when you are on stage.

Plant your feet and stand firm instead of moving around, giving yourself a strong foundation to stay calm. You’ll also appear more focused to your audience. Keep your slides to a minimum; experts recommend a one-third rule, so ten slides would be plenty for a 30-minute presentation. Use big images so your slides are an accompaniment for your storytelling, not full of so much content you find yourself stuck reading off them. Memorize, instead of using flashcards or notes.

Consider re-using the same presentations repeatedly, or even anecdotes or case studies as “stock” parts of your presentations. This is a tactic that many successful speakers use. Rearrange them to keep the storytelling aspect fresh.

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Prepare and practice

Another great way to ensure peak confidence is to eliminate any miscommunication stumbling blocks or technical variables that could potentially go wrong.

Practice with a friend outside of your business field to test what you have to say and get a fresh take, rather than your business partners who already know what you are trying to say. Record and play back your presentation on video to help identify an awkwardly phrased sentence, a joke that might not land, or find points you might rush through.

Also give yourself plenty of time to walk through all the technical parts! Well before your presentation is scheduled, take time to double check your mic, presentation slides, remote, even details like the podium height and the projector and screen set up. Knowing all these things are ready to go will alleviate any extra anxiety you are carrying so you can focus on what’s important – your presentation!

Get help to improve your skills

Lastly, if you are severely struggling and have such deep public speaking anxiety you are finding it hard to take steps towards your goals, there is no shame in seeking some education or assistance to learn to overcome it.

Many famous business leaders were not naturally comfortable with speaking in public and refused to let it hold them back. Warren Buffett is a fantastic example. When he realized speaking in public was critical to his success, but he couldn’t manage to do it, he turned to the Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People” course to help him learn to express himself better and gain confidence.

In a Bloomberg TV documentary Buffett said, “I had the intellect for business but not the persona. I had to learn to communicate with people better, particularly in groups. I just couldn’t go through life being terrified to speak in public.”

lead-managerlead-managerAfter your presentations bring in new business, you’ll need a way to automate your follow-up efforts. That’s our specialty. Schedule a free demo and manage leads with less work!

Have you already overcome your public speaking anxiety and successfully presented at a sales conference? Share your experience and best tips in the comments!