How to prepare for and beat your fear of public speaking

January 2, 2018 / Arielle Adler


Douglas Fairbanks, movie star, speaking in front of the Sub-Treasury building, New York City, to aid the third Liberty Loan. April 1918.

It is such an exciting opportunity to share your knowledge, thoughts and opinions with others but doing so in a meeting in front of colleagues is a complete different ballgame than speaking in public in front of strangers.

Knowing that you will be judged in every aspect from the moment your name is announced to give the presentation could be nerve-breaking and intimidating.

The way you walk to the stage (body-language), your appearance (being dressed properly to the occasion), and the first words you speak (is content appealing to the audience) could make or break your presentation.

There is only one way to ensure that all the above work out: be prepared and practice.

Ensure that the presentation, whether you use slides or not, is structured properly; Tell compelling stories the audience can relate to and create your presentation based on the stories. Ensure to

  • start with a powerful opening (it should grab the audience’s attention, create curiosity, wanting them to hear more) in which you include what you will be talking about (agenda)
  • Include the What, Why, and How of your topic in your main message. Keep the core message focused and brief
  • have a strong closing (inform your audience you are about to close your presentation and summarize what you told them including the highlights). End e.g. with a quote or call to action

Add humor whenever suitable and invite people to ask questions for which you need to allow time.

Microphone_public speaking

If you use a PowerPoint presentation, ensure that the slides hold minimal readable text (font size at least 30 points), preferably only with a few keywords so that your audience is focused on listening to you instead of reading your slides. Use visuals as people find it easy to relate to that.

Learn your script by heart (tip: check it for too many repetitive words) to avoid long breaks which people may perceive as you are searching for words, or even worse, the use of “”um’s” to fill up time. At appropriate moments allow short pauses which help the information to sink in.

Practice the presentation standing up in front of a mirror (pay attention to the way you move and use gestures), and record yourself so you can review it and improve your speech. If possible perform it for colleagues and friends as well to receive their feedback.
And how to keep your audience engaged?
Know your audience, what interests and motivates them, while getting them involved by asking them questions and acknowledging them in your presentation.
If possible and relevant relate to earlier held presentations. Maintain eye contact to keep your audience involved.

Some tips:

  • Print out your presentation and script and have a backup plan for delivering the presentation in case electricity or technology fails (also for audiovisuals you include in the presentation)
  • Do a dry run of the presentation including the testing of all equipment, audiovisuals, sound and (internet) connections
  • Have a glass of water handy
  • Think of questions that could be asked and practice brief answers for each

Last but not least: smile and enjoy. If you’re tense people might focus on you instead of the content of your presentation. The better you’re prepared, the more fulfillment and enjoyment you’ll get out of it.