Entrepreneurs: How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

[NOTE: This post continues a series exploring the topic of entrepreneurship. While my focus has and will continue to be on Facebook ads, I have plenty to share about what I’ve learned while building my business.]

As I type this, I will be speaking for a rather large group in 12 hours at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego. I’d be lying if I told you I’m not nervous. I still have nerves. But my reaction to public speaking is nothing like it once was.

My horrific memories are vivid. It could be a school class report. An update for the board of directors. Or a simple conference call. My chest tightened up. I could hardly breathe. I shook and struggled to make it through.

It was embarrassing. To this day, I don’t know how noticeable some of this was. But it tore me up inside. I was absolutely petrified of any type of public speaking.

And let me be clear: Public speaking wasn’t limited to speaking in front of large groups. As mentioned above, it involved moments in front of small groups or when it was only me and a phone.

Today, I don’t love public speaking. I’ve learned to enjoy it. I’m still no pro and will tend to be a little shaky at times. But I no longer panic for weeks ahead of time. And that’s huge progress.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll undoubtedly run into at least an occasional public speaking opportunity. While I don’t think you should ever feel like you absolutely have to do it to advance, there certainly is a benefit.

So how did I move beyond this paralyzing fear? It didn’t happen overnight. It was a process. But I can trace it back to these things…

Record Videos

This is going to sound crazy to anyone who doesn’t deal with this anxiety, but even the act of recording a video was once very difficult for me. I’m not talking about live videos either. I’m talking about a situation where it’s just me and a camera. No one else. Pre-editing.

You can probably still see it when you watch my earlier videos. I struggled through. But I recorded video after video after video. Eventually, I’d get more comfortable.

As is the case with public speaking, I wouldn’t say that I love recording videos today. But it’s no longer difficult. I don’t stress over it. I can do it if I have to, and it may appear easy from the outside.

That is only possible due to the experience of recording many videos over the years. If camera time is too much for you, start with a screen share video where only your voice is audible. Then work your way from there.

Make no mistake, I prefer recording my screen only!

Record Podcasts

Like videos, starting a podcast wasn’t easy for me. It’s hilarious when I think back on it. I hit record, and no one else was listening. And yet, my voice was shaking.

But I’ve recorded well over 100 podcasts now. Maybe 200. And I’ve been a guest on close to 100 more. That experience helps a whole freaking lot.

One reason this helps is that I begin to have a routine. When I’m a guest, there’s a common story I tell. I’m never starting from scratch.

When I record my own podcasts, I cater to my own strengths and weaknesses. I keep it casual (that’s why it’s the Pubcast!). But it is somewhat structured, and I have certain things I always say at the beginning and end. Routine is important.

Like videos, podcasts help me with my ability to present for an audience. But since podcasts are more spontaneous than the typical video, they have likely done more to prepare me for speaking for a live audience.

Host Webinars

The parallels may be closest between hosting webinars and public speaking. In both cases, you may use slides (I do). The presentation still must change when speaking for a live audience, though. When you have a crowd, you need to engage more with the people in front of you.

But webinars have been critical to my development as a speaker. I host a webinar for the Power Hitters Club every week (now 145 of them!). I also host one or two live free webinars nearly every month.

This has gone a long way to helping me develop a voice. I also get a better sense for flow and rhythm — how long I should spend on each slide or topic, what is too fast or too slow.

Hosting live webinars is great practice for anyone looking to do public speaking.

Be Prepared

There’s no replacement for being prepared. One reason for the fear of public speaking is the fear of the unknown. I fear the worst possible thing that could happen.

What if my slides don’t work? What if someone asks me a difficult question? What if my presentation ends too soon?

I need to be confident in my content. I need to practice giving that presentation, even if it’s just for myself or in the mirror. I time it. And I edit anything that doesn’t flow properly.

Avoid Reading

One source of anxiety is feeling like you have to get everything perfectly. Every word. Don’t do that.

I have slides, but they are there as a guide to keep me on task. While my slides tend to have a lot of words, I don’t just read them. Each sentence is a jumping off point to another point that needs to be made.

More than half of your speaking needs to be off the cuff. You are responding to the slides and to the audience. If you know the content this well, you are less likely to be nervous.

Rest Well, Eat Well

I try to have a routine the night before and day of my presentation. I speak tomorrow, so I’ll get to sleep by about 11pm. I’m not going out tonight, even though there are pre-conference parties going on.

After eight hours of sleep, I’ll get up and run at 7am. I’ll grab breakfast with close friends. I’ll practice my presentation two more times. I’ll walk and clear my head with those same close friends. And then I’ll finally give my presentation.

It may sound like a process. It may be unnecessary for some. But that’s necessary for me, and probably for many who deal with this type of anxiety.

Your Turn

To be clear, I’m not a public speaking pro. I choose to only speak two or three times per year — for many reasons, but the stress and anticipation can be unhealthy for me. I do speak for some rather large groups. And you know what? When it’s all said and done, I have a blast doing it.

Do you deal with public speaking anxiety? Any other tips you’d add?

Let me know in the comments below!