In many unscientific polls, the fear of public speaking outranks even fear of public nudity or fear of death. The thought of having to deliver a speech in front of others can fill many people with a sense of dread or anxiety. However, public speaking does not have to be the scream-filled carnival of horrors we often imagine it will be. With a little practice and some advice on controlling anxiety, you may find yourself looking forward to your next after-dinner speech or project presentation.
One of the easiest ways to get better at public speaking is to speak more in public. This may sound redundant, but think about the number of opportunities you have to speak throughout an average week. How many of those opportunities did you turn down because of a fear of public speaking?
Becoming a better public speaker is partially a case of muscle memory. Take more opportunities to make short speeches whenever possible, and pay attention to how it feels to stand, to speak, to read from a text and to make eye contact. It doesn't matter if it is a scripture reading at church, a sales presentation or a toast at a wedding. The trick is to gain more experience so that the anxiety of public speaking no longer controls you.
Seek out continuing education courses designed to help with public speaking. Sometimes companies sponsor employees to attend seminars on improving public speaking skills. Enrolling in a speech course at a local college may help you learn how to perform different types of speeches.
Look into local chapters of national public speaking organizations such as Toastmasters. You might also learn by observation -- watch a professional speaker on television to see how he or she handles anxiety. A pastor or other public speaker may also be able to offer advice on the physical aspects of public speaking.
It often helps to learn as much as you can about the subject matter before delivering a speech. If someone were to ask you about the influence of Memphis architecture on the Western world, chances are you would instantly feel inadequate and anxious. But what if someone asked you how to brush your teeth? You would probably feel like the Oracle at Delphi, since you should know that procedure very well.
This is one of the best ways to improve your public speaking ability. Consider yourself the resident expert, brought in to illuminate an audience on a very important topic. If you keep that mindset throughout your speech, you should find the inner confidence you seek.