No matter what your field of expertise is, public speaking can make or break your career. If that sentence fills you with self-doubt, you’re not alone. With an estimated 75% of people suffering glossophobia (the fear of public speaking), you have plenty of company. But it’s not hopeless for you. I can help you shed that self-doubt with this quick read.
Before we dive in though, how about a sneak peek at some of my advice on how to speak with confidence in public? Accept the fact you’ll be nervous, but don’t let it control you. Prepare your speech or presentation well in advance. Practice in front of a variety of listeners. Learn controlled breathing. Act like you own the stage.
Sounds simple enough, right? Yet, putting it all into practice can be a nightmare if you’re unsure where to start or even how to start. That’s where I come in. I’ve got the experience and the tools you need to succeed. So, let’s dive in.
How to speak with confidence in public
“Stage fright is my worst problem. A voice is very intimate. It’s something of your own. So there’s always this fear, because you feel naked. There’s a fear of not reaching up to expectations.”
– Andrea Bocelli
Whether it’s fear of failure, crippling self-doubt, imposter syndrome, or the result of a past botched speaking engagement, you’re here because you need help. We all know that speaking with confidence is hard enough on its own, but when you throw in a whole crowd, it can get downright treacherous for your self-esteem.
There are simple ways to beat the worry and get your confidence up to snuff to truly wow your audience and solidify your role as a leader. There isn’t a magic pill, but these tips are the next best thing.
Prepare your mind for confident public speaking
“I was on ‘Strictly’ because I was getting stage fright. I was taught that I had to imagine what a good outcome would be and be happy with it.” – Rachel Riley
It’s an anxious speaker’s worst nightmare to be thrown into a situation without time to prepare, so don’t skip that step. Preparing your mind in advance will go a long way to improving your confidence during your speech or presentation.
Here’s how to get your mind in the right place for a successful talk.
Accept the fact that you’re going to be nervous
This is one of the most important points I need to make. Even seasoned performers and successful entrepreneurs get nervous before going in front of their people. It’s a natural, normal part of being human.
Yet, some people look like they were born for public speaking, not even breaking a sweat up on stage. How is that even possible when you’re left mumbling and worrying before you even step into the room?
First and foremost, those public speaking champions are just as nervous as you are. The difference is that they accept it. While you’re standing in your prep-room trying to convince yourself not to be nervous, they’re acknowledging the butterflies in their stomachs.
So, what’s going on? How does that even work?
It’s simple psychology. When you try to convince yourself that your feelings aren’t real, they’ll push that much harder for you to recognize them. Think of that nervousness like a toddler screaming for your attention. It’s not going to go away just because you plug your ears and close your eyes. It’ll just scream louder.
Instead, acknowledge the nerves and any lingering fears. Accept that it’s normal to feel this way. Give yourself permission, time, and space to feel those feelings.
Once you accept your nerves, feel them, and let them run their course, you open yourself up to better energy and a way to focus that nervousness into something amazing.
Learn to recognize weak thoughts
“I feel the audience are friends that have come to see us. That was always how we look on it in the Carter Family. I’ve never suffered stage fright.” – Carlene Carter
Some people start out with confidence but soon find it disappearing as their speech goes on. This is almost always due to negative self-talk and thoughts of failure. Learn to identify these thoughts before they deflate your confidence.
One of the biggest culprits is the obsessive focus on your perceived failures. “Did I blow it already? Am I stuttering? Did they see me trip just now? What if I forget my lines? I’ll never get through this speech!”
All of this preoccupation with your perceived shortcomings will only serve to ramp up your anxiety. Instead of focusing inward, pay attention to the audience.
People are there to hear what you have to say. They already see you as an authority, or they wouldn’t be there. Use that expectation of authority to your advantage. Remember that they believe in you; now it’s time for you to believe in yourself.
Create a speech persona
A favorite confidence booster for anxious speakers is to create a speech persona. Think of this like a costume an actor dons before his performance. They’re playing a part, becoming that character.
Create a character that’s confident, secure, and engaging. You may wish to visualize this persona physically, or just think of the personality traits he or she has. Whatever works best for you—there is no right or wrong way to create your new, confident persona.
If you have trouble creating your self-assured speaker persona, you may find it helpful to take traits from favorite actors, musicians, or other performers. It may even be helpful to review lots of speeches, such as TED Talks, and find some people who truly show confidence.
Try on a few new personas well before your speaking engagement. You may find that too much confidence makes you just as uncomfortable as having none at all. Find that happy medium, a place between over the top and not enough confidence.
Prepare your body for confident public speaking
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.” — Mark Twain
Preparing mentally is important, but you need to train your body for success, too. Not unlike professional athletes, a public speaker’s body can learn to function on auto-pilot, so start training now.
Controlled breathing helps you stay calm during public speaking
Breathing should come easy, but for someone lacking confidence in public speaking, it may seem like the hardest thing in the world. Anxiety makes your body tense up. It makes your breathing go shallow as your body prepares for the fight or flight response.
Learning some relaxation breathing techniques can help you stop anxiety before it crushes your confidence. Controlled breathing helps your circulation normalize, reduces blood pressure, and keeps your blood oxygenated.
Sama Vritti technique
One easy breathing exercise is the “Sama Vritti” technique. It can be done at any time and only takes a few minutes to master.
- Begin with a slow, steady inhale through your nose while silently counting to four.
- Pause briefly, then exhale through your nose for another count of four.
- Repeat until your heart rate slows and you feel calmer.
Abdominal breathing technique
The abdominal breathing technique is another simple one to try, though it’s a little more obvious you’re actively breathing. This one is best done in private if one of your anxiety triggers is being seen.
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen.
- Breathe in deeply through the nose, making sure your abdomen inflates, not your chest.
- Exhale slowly.
- Repeat six to ten times every minute for approximately ten minutes.
How to speak with confidence in public by projecting your voice
Nobody wants to strain to hear a mousy speaker stumble over their words. Be the kind of speaker that everyone can hear clearly, even without a microphone. Don’t confuse yelling with projecting though, or your audience will dread your presentations.
After learning to breathe properly, projecting your voice should be much easier. Your body will already be primed to take in more oxygen and use it more efficiently, and you are less likely to run out of breath while speaking.
Your body needs to be relaxed to properly project your voice. Limber up with some simple stretches and movements to help loosen your muscles. Pay special attention to your jaw and chest muscles where stress often sits. Yawning is a surprisingly simple and effective way to stretch and loosen those muscles.
Remember that you want to fill your diaphragm and not your chest with oxygen. Use the abdominal breathing technique to be sure. Then, aim for the back of the room. You should not be yelling or screaming, but speaking with authority.
Theater actors use a special training technique that teaches their bodies to use the diaphragm. Take a deep breath in, then exhale forcefully while saying “Ha!”
How do you know if you’re yelling or projecting? The easiest way to tell is paying attention to your throat. If your throat begins to hurt, you’re yelling. When you speak confidently using your diaphragm, your throat shouldn’t be sore.
Read more about How to Use Your Voice Effectively in a Presentation
Power postures help you speak with confidence in public
A lot of people are shocked to learn that something as simple as your posture can help boost your confidence while speaking. In fact, it’s not just public speaking that can improve with this little trick.
Science Daily shared this report about confidence and posture. The study examined the responses of 71 Ohio State students to various instructions on their posture. Researchers discovered that self-perceptions of confidence and other positive traits were higher in those who were instructed to sit with their chests out and “good” posture.
They aren’t the only ones who have proven that body language matters. This phenomenon has been recorded for decades. Those who pay attention have been rewarded with higher self-esteem and a plethora of mental health benefits.
Try these body language hacks to boost your confidence while speaking in public.
Maintain eye contact with your audience.
Don’t give one person the crazy-eyed stare, but give solid eye contact for about 60% of the time you’re speaking. Choose a new person each time to keep the vibe of the room active and engaged with you.
Keep your shoulders squared but relaxed.
Slouched bodies and slumping shoulders make you look weak and intimidated. With your shoulders squared but relaxed you’re showing your confidence while maintaining approachability. Squared shoulders also keep your head straight and your body ready for action.
Though you’ll be spending a good portion of your public speaking time in eye contact with your audience, the rest of the time you’ll need to look somewhere. Don’t stare at the floor or your notes. Keep those eyes up, scanning the room, paying attention to how your audience is receiving your message.
Keep your hands out of your pockets.
Many people are fidgeters, and that’s fine at your desk. However, in front of your audience, fidgeting with your keys in your pocket makes you look weak and uncomfortable. Keep your hands active in front of you, relaxed at your sides, or otherwise occupied.
If you want to go for a semi-casual appearance, you can put one hand in your pocket, but keep the other one actively pointing, gesturing, and engaging.
Take a look at the article What To Do With Your Hands During a Speech
Keep your hands off your face and neck.
Touching these spots are subtle indications of discomfort, so hands off.
Move your body around the stage or presentation area.
You may only have a few steps in either direction to move in, but you should use it. Take up space, be active, be excited about your topic. Use your body to keep your audience’s attention and to emphasize aspects of your presentation.
But don’t move too fast.
One rookie mistake of nervous speakers is moving too fast. Quick, jerky movements make you seem anxious and that will make your audience anxious, too. Concentrate on slower, steady movements. Be smooth, calm, and confident.
Big strides are confident strides.
Nervous people shuffle, while confident people take big, natural, meaningful strides.
Unless you are the speaker at a solemn occasion, it’s good to laugh a little. Smile, be inviting and bright. Even if you’re shaking inside, your smile and a well-timed, friendly laugh can help ease your tension and put your audience at ease, too.
Practice speaking with confidence in public. . . in private
“I started by doing a little funny story, and then I started going to open mics. I realized I had a lot of work to do – you have to get over the stage fright and get your stage presence up. It took me some time, but I finally feel that I’m at a point where I feel comfortable on stage and giving my point of view.” – Loni Love
Afraid you might not be projecting confidence, even after reading these body language tips? I have more help for you!
Thanks to technology, the solution to your problem might be in your pocket right now. Take a video of yourself presenting part of your speech. Concentrate on your body language and projecting your voice. Review your video and see if you can spot any weak spots.
However, don’t be your only judge. We’re often our own worst critics. Ask a trusted colleague or friend to watch the video and point out any areas where you seem to be lacking confidence.
Don’t be surprised if your helper says you look great. Most of our anxiety over public speaking is based on half-truths we tell ourselves. If your helper says you look great, believe them! It’s still a good idea to keep rehearsing, even if a friend says you’re doing well. It all adds up.
Avoid hesitation words
If you notice yourself saying things like “um” or “ah” or other hesitation words, take steps to reduce usage before your presentation. As well as being a bad habit formed over time, hesitation words are also a sign of waning confidence.
This is another point that can easily be identified by watching yourself on video. Audio recordings can help, too. Notice any patterns in your speech where hesitation words crop up.
Does it happen when you’re switching sub-topics? Do you use hesitation words when changing notecards or flipping pages? Do you use them to fill in gaps between breaths?
Whatever your habits, choose one to work on at a time. You didn’t develop the habit overnight, so you won’t break it overnight either.
A friend or colleague may be able to help you overcome hesitation word usage, too. Ask someone you trust to listen for hesitation words when you speak. They can give you a gentle reminder to stop. This can be a look, a quiet sound, or a touch of some kind to show you when you’re doing it.
Rehearse, don’t memorize for public speaking confidence
“In my opinion, the only way to conquer stage fright is to get up on stage and play. Every time you play another show, it gets better and better.” – Taylor Swift
True confidence comes not from memorization and strict adherence to your plan, but from living and speaking in the moment. Of course, you want to know your material well, but it shouldn’t turn into a race to memorize everything word for word.
The most confident public speakers have notes in hand, but they also speak from the heart. This is a topic you know a lot about—you may even be regarded as an expert. That means you should be able to talk to your audience about the subject without depending on your notes.
Glance at them to stay on track, but don’t be afraid to venture off point a little bit if the audience is really into something you’ve just said. Don’t be afraid to elaborate on a point that seems to pique their interest.
One way to accomplish this is to imagine you’re speaking to a good friend, not a room full of associates. Keep your language friendly but knowledgeable. Nod, maintain eye contact with anyone asking a question, and feed off the energy of the listeners.
Read more about how to practice a speech here.
“The truth is, I hate to perform. I get such bad stage fright, it makes me physically ill.” – Rivers Cuomo, Weezer
All the practice, visualization, and feedback in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you look like a slob. How you present yourself will play a major role in how you feel and how your audience perceives you.
I’m not going to tell you to head out and buy the most expensive suit and fancy shoes. I am, however, going to tell you to put some thought into your outfit, how you style your hair, and even which shoes you wear for your presentation.
There are two sides to consider when choosing your appearance: What you want your audience to feel and how your appearance makes you feel.
I have written a thorough article about 10 Great Tips How to Dress for Public Speaking here.
Color choice can say a lot about you before you even open your mouth. Drab, boring colors don’t inspire much confidence. Yet, loud, bold, aggressive colors may intimidate your listeners too much for them to truly pay attention. And if you look like you just fell into the laundry basket, people will think your thoughts will be as disorganized as your outfit.
Some friendly power colors include:
- Blue is considered the “truth and wisdom” color and is also thought of as stable. Any dark shade of blue will make an audience feel at ease and like they can trust you. This is a great choice to use as the main color in your outfit.
- Green is a down to Earth color that makes people think of green fields and fresh spring days. Try not to go too heavy on green, but using it as an accent can help bring a feeling of newness to your presentation.
- Black is generally thought of as serious, elegant, and sometimes mysterious. Using this as your main color can help you appear slimmer, too. But be careful with black. Too much can make you seem too mysterious and people may not trust you. Splash in some balancing, calming colors such as blue or green to offset the potential rigid feel of black.
- Brown is a bit of a grab bag. Though it’s thought of as a stable color, some people love it, while others can’t stand it. Use brown in moderation.
Stay away from excessive amounts of red, orange, or neon colors. These are distracting, sometimes aggressive, and can often leave audiences feeling overwhelmed. The effect is intensified if you happen to be an active speaker who uses a lot of big movements.
On the other end of the spectrum, gray is boring and may come across as cold. Muddy, muted colors can make people feel unclean.
Accessories can enhance your look or be a distraction, so choose them with care. Stick with subtle items that don’t flash or shine too much.
Generally speaking, conservative clothing is the best choice for any speaking situation. However, you’ll need to choose something that resonates with your audience and the theme of your talk, too. You can dress up or dress down many types of outfits, so pay attention to the general theme and who you’ll be speaking to.
The saying, “Less is more” applies here, but keep your shirt on. That saying doesn’t mean you should be wearing revealing clothing. It means you don’t want to go overboard with your look. Simple, classy, stylish, and fresh should be your goal.
Aim for comfort in both body and spirit. If you feel good about how you look, that will show in your behavior and your words. If you’re physically uncomfortable, it will soon become obvious.
Go for breathable fabrics that can hide sweat, a cut that’s flattering to your frame, and colors that make you feel confident and secure.
How to exude confidence during public speaking
“Live performance is everything. First of all, I have terrible stage fright. But beyond that, once the music starts, it’s OK.” – Fantastic Negrito
Your big day has arrived. You’ve prepared your mind and body, rehearsed your presentation, and practiced projecting your voice with purpose. You’re wearing the perfect outfit and your hair is on point.
You’re ready. Here’s how to make sure you continue to exude confidence during your entire presentation.
Though you may not have time or privacy during your speech to do a full set of breathing exercises, you will always have time to simply breathe. Slow, relaxed, full breaths between sentences will keep your body energized and your mind calm.
Turn nervous energy into positive energy
Have you ever seen a person chewing their nails in a waiting room or fidgeting in line at the post office? They’re clearly uncomfortable. They’re not fun to be around and may even start to make you fidget, too.
Now, imagine the best speech you’ve ever heard. What was the speaker doing? Were they biting their nails or fidgeting? Of course not! They were speaking with power, confidence, and purpose. They may have walked a few steps in either direction, pointed exuberantly at presentation materials, or even been quite animated in front of the room.
All of those actions scream charisma, but it’s so much more than that. Each of those speakers has learned to harness the nervous energy flowing through them, then turned it right back onto the audience.
How does that even work? Movement is engaging and interesting for your audience. They will watch you, get excited with you, and feel more in-tune with you if you look like you’re totally into what you’re saying. Movement and projecting your voice helps you burn that energy before it can turn into stutters, fidgets, and nail-biting.
Act like you own the stage. . . because you do!
Have you heard the phrase, “Fake it til you make it”? When you’re learning how to speak with confidence in public, that’s a powerful tool. Just pretending like you’re confident is sometimes enough to trigger real confidence.
But how do you fake confidence? Remember that speech persona from before? Now’s the time to put it on.
Imagine yourself just killin’ it up there. You’re animated, energetic, confident. Your voice is projecting well and you are making statements with authority. Your audience is hanging on your every word; their heads are nodding in agreement.
You own this stage. You own this speech!
Keep water handy
It’s hard to speak clearly when your mouth is dry, so keep a glass of water handy. A word of warning, however. Excessive drinking will make you seem anxious, so keep your sips to a minimum.
Taking a small drink at natural pauses in your presentation will help. This is one more thing you can practice before the big day.
Though I’ve covered a big chunk of information here already, I still have so much more to teach you about speaking with confidence in public. You can’t have too many tools in your toolbox, right?
Sometimes it’s not just a lack of confidence that’s holding you back. Sometimes it’s pure fear. Take a look at some the less common ways to overcome the fear of public speaking in this article.
What is stage fright? Stage fright is a specific communication-based anxiety resulting in a person experiencing physiological excitement, negative feelings, or certain behavioural responses to the actual or expected act of public speaking. (read full article here)
What is social anxiety disorder? Social anxiety disorder is a condition in which the fear of a situation where one has to make a presentation or where others are watching is very strong. Sometimes, the fear is so strong that such situations are avoided completely. (read full article here)
Is public speaking really more feared than death? It depends. On the one hand, the results of the studies seem to suggest it, but on the other hand, it should be taken into account that the fear of flying, heights, deep waters, etc., are all related to death. (read full article here)