Overcoming your Fear of Public Speaking

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Overcoming your Fear of Public Speaking

By: Noman Muneer | OLC Volunteer Writer
  5406 reads

The professor nods in your direction and says "you're up," and you begin to gather your notes and your flash drive and walk to the front of the class. With every step your heart seems to churn out extra beats and the pounding can be felt in your temples. You get to the PC and insert the flash drive and cast a cursory glance around the class, it's a red letter day for attendance because everyone registered in the class is present. The power point presentation comes up on the screen and you scan it for the slideshow button, even though you've used it a hundred times it seems to evade you every time when it counts.

That's the first outward sign that you're losing it. The second occurs when you look up and you realize that this is it, the professor has his notebook in front of him and he will be listening to every word you say from this point on, grading you on the substance and clarity of the presentation (perhaps 20% of the final grade!). Your fingers are cold and you seem to have a dry alien in your mouth where once your tongue used to be, and worst of all, the guy sitting in the front row knows it... you're losing it.

If you've ever faced such situation then you're a lot like me. I went through it every time I had to give a presentation to the class. I had it so bad that I would go to great lengths to try and figure out if a particular course required a class presentation and if it did I would avoid the course like a plague.

As much as I wanted to avoid giving presentations, I eventually found myself in a situation where I had no other choices as I had run out of courses that did not require class presentations. The mind has a great capacity to overcome fears and weaknesses in times of great need. Well, that didn't happen in this case with me. The above example described what I felt during the last presentation of my last semester before graduation. And I had five consecutive semesters of presentations.

So, how do you get over the fear of public speaking? Or can you get over it at all? The answer to the second question is... yes. The tricky question is how. You have to be willing to have a few train wrecks before you begin to feel a little more comfortable with giving presentations. And yes, some experiences can scar you for life (remember the time you couldn't read your notes off the paper in your hands because your hands were shaking so much?) but you need to use them as stepping stones to build your confidence.  

1.Confront the problem

Accept the fact that you can't get around giving presentations. If you do somehow manage to avoid it while at university, you will run into it during your professional life and, trust me, that isn't any easier. As is the case with all problems, the best way to resolve them is to address them.

2. Have a positive outlook!

Think positive about the presentation. If you know your presentation will suck before you give it then the probability of this actually happening will increase. Even if you don't exude confidence while giving the presentation, having a positive vibe will help you and it may increase the possibility of a good grade. Having a positive demeanour also makes your audience, your fellow students, feel more comfortable and avoids an awkward atmosphere from being developed while the presentation is being given.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Own your presentation. The worst thing is to go into the presentation with poor preparation. You will find that presentation preparation and nervousness have an inverse relationship. The more you prepare for the presentation, the less nervous you will be. Try not to read off the Power Point too much... try memorizing some of the points so that you can deliver them while looking at the class. And if looking at the class throws you off then look at the professor or the space above his head.

4. Healthy eating

Remember what your parents said about eating fruits and vegetables? Eating healthy minimizes your stress levels, as foods such as whole grains are a huge energy booster to your diet and health. But steer away from junk food as they have very little nutritional value and can increase your bad cholesterol levels.

Tips and resources

Repetition helps a lot. And while it helps to give a lot of presentations to overcome the fear of public speaking let's not forget that preparing presentations takes a lot of work. It takes precious time to prepare and, for some, it takes a lot of will power and can be emotionally exhausting. So how do you get around this conundrum? Two words: Toast Masters! The toast masters club at the Burnaby campus is a great resource for those who want to practice and improve their public speaking skills. If you become a regular, you will find that it gets easier to get up in front of people and talk. It helps improve your confidence, and in some cases it can help students come out of their shell. I highly recommend that you give toast masters a try. Another way of improving your public speaking skills is by volunteering. The fear of public speaking has a lot to do with how comfortable we are being around people. If you increase your interaction with people and do so in a constructive setting then that will go a long way in increasing your confidence to face an audience. You can checkout volunteer opportunities by logging on to Simplicity. Class presentations can count for up to 20% (and sometimes more) of your final grade. If you excel at giving presentations, it's an easy 20%, but if you struggle with it, then it becomes a disadvantage that you must make up for by performing better on midterms and other class assignments. The good news is that the professors are not looking for the perfect presentation to give a good grade. Obviously, the content makes up a large part of your grade, which is why step 3 is the most important of all, and if you can present your information with an air of confidence and in a positive and slightly more engaging manner, then that registers with the professor and it will show in your grade.

Posted on July 07, 2011