How to Communicate to Influence—Even if You’re Terrified of Public Speaking

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For many of us, public speaking is terrifying. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat, my heart rate rise, and my stomach tap dance. Unfortunately, in the course of our professional lives, most of us will need to deliver a presentation, ace an interview, or take center stage at an event—even if speaking isn’t a regular part of our jobs. Fortunately, with preparation, you can feel more confident, and Communicate to Influence, even if you’re freaking out inside.

No matter what event you are preparing for—big client meeting, keynote speech at a conference, high stakes interview—practicing out loud will create muscle memory that will kick in during the presentation.

I discovered this trick while I was preparing to defend my Master’s thesis. For weeks, I had nightmares about forgetting the topic of my own research, finding myself naked in front of the panel, or being asked a question that unravelled all my hard work before my eyes.

To prepare, I said everything out loud, over and over, until I stopped tripping on my words. I also talked through some worst case scenarios. I practiced transition phrases that would help me assert myself if there was a manterruptor on the panel. I tend to get a bit tongue-tied—so in my rehearsals, when I tripped over my words, I practiced taking a deep breath and starting the sentence again. All of that practice became muscle memory.

Did I get over my fear of public speaking? Absolutely not. Walking into that room was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

But my preparation kicked in when I needed it. Saying the words, confidently and convincingly, was second nature. I got the marbles out of my mouth and could speak with both candor and confidence in the room where it mattered.

Since then, every time I have a meeting, presentation, or interview that I’m nervous about, I practice saying what I want and need to say out loud, at least three or four times. Does it feel strange to pace my office talking to myself? Sure it does. But it’s better than being unprepared. Practising out loud ahead of time allows me to be in the moment during the presentation while focusing on the most influential elements of my presentation. I’m also able to focus on developing trust through eye contact, reigning in my nervous energy, and employing effective pauses and posture to boost my credibility. 

I still haven’t gotten over my fear of public speaking. When it’s my turn to lead a meeting or deliver a presentation, I get anxious and my stomach starts churning. But practicing saying the words out loud, over and over, eases my nerves enough to get me through it.   

And since it’s results that matter at Actionable, I can report that I aced that thesis defence, rocked many presentations, and felt I could put my best self forward when I interviewed with Actionable. All anxiety aside, there has been a direct correlation between the amount of time I’ve spent practising what I need to say, and the success of the presentation.

So when you’ve got a presentation for a conference, the sales pitch meeting for a big client, or any public speaking that kicks your nerves into high gear coming up, practice out loud to give a killer presentation. Focus on making your message highly relevant for your audience, structure your thoughts, and make an influential, and emotional, connection. 

Say it out loud. Get the marbles out of your mouth. Take a few minutes to practice a response to your worst case scenario. It’s probably not as bad as you think.

Are you nervous about an upcoming meeting, presentation, or interview? Check out these summaries for more inspiration: Talk Like TED, How to Talk to Anyone, and Strategic Storytelling.

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