Public speaking is intimidating for many people. And pubic speaking over Zoom can feel very different from speaking in person. As we return to offices and conference rooms, you may find in-person public speaking stressful. Talking to your computer screen can be challenging in its own right, but speaking in front of your colleagues again can take some getting used to. In either case, public speaking—in the conference room, in an auditorium or even on a Zoom call—can be a common source of anxiety for people of any age or experience level.
As an actor, I have had plenty of experience speaking in front of crowds, but that stage fright can creep up when you least expect it. Would you believe me if I told you that actors are some of the most self-conscious people out there? Here are a few tips right from the proverbial actors’ handbook to help combat the fear of public speaking.
Practise Out Loud
Whether you’re working with a script or improvising, practising what you’re going to say in advance is always helpful. The more you practise, the more clear your thoughts become and the more passionate and engaging you sound. Start by rehearsing on your own—in the shower, while washing dishes, or while working out. This is a great way to, as actors say, get “out of your head”. You’ll begin to develop a muscle memory of keywords and essentially embody your ideas. When you feel ready, find a friend and rehearse it with them.
Use Humour To Your Advantage
There’s no better way to ease tension in the room than with a quick joke. This doesn’t mean you have to suddenly become a stand-up comedian. Good humour is all about being open and receptive. Ted Lasso said it well: “Make fun of yourself right off the bat. A little joke.” Having a bad hair day? Traffic jams on the ride to work? Mismatched socks? Sounds like prime tension-easing material to me!
It can be very tempting to stare at yourself in the mirror to practise public speaking, but sometimes it does more harm than good. The last thing you want to be worried about when speaking to a crowd of people is if your hair looks good or if you’re smiling enough. Generally speaking, people are at their best when they’re engaged and focused, so step away from the mirror to avoid additional stressors.
Tip: If you’re speaking virtually, Zoom has a feature where you can hide your self-view to avoid getting distracted by your own video while speaking.
Reframe Your Worry
As stressful as they are, nerves usually indicate how much you care, which is a good thing. Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks’ research shows that turning anxiety into excitement is more effective than attempting to achieve a calm state. In some ways, your body can’t tell the difference between jitters from nerves and jitters from enthusiasm, so try pretending your worry is excitement. Eventually, you won’t be pretending anymore.
Whether you’re returning to the office soon or working on your Zoom meeting skills, public speaking is a useful tool, especially in a post-pandemic work environment. Remember to be kind to yourself because, after all, fear of public speaking is common, and chances are you’re not the only one with jitters.