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If Public Speaking Scares You, Keep These 6 Things in Mind

If the thought of having all eyes on you makes you sweat, you’re not alone.

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BY Candice Galek - 01 Dec 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Public speaking can be scary on any level. I remember my first public speaking class in college. The professor said something along the lines of, "Don't do these three things if you want to succeed at public speaking. 1. Don't wear busy prints. 2. Don't say 'Um' a lot. 3. Don't move around dramatically."

He had on a bright plaid shirt, said "Um" a lot, and his nonstop pacing was off-putting.

I honestly wasn't sure if he was just proving a point, or if he had no idea what image he was projecting. He asked us to pair up with a partner during the short break, and work on a small introduction of each other, and when we would come back to class we would present.

When break time rolled around, people began to pair up sheepishly. I quickly stood up, walked out of that class, and never looked back. It wasn't a good fit for me, so I dropped it and picked up something that was more my style.

Ironically, over the past year, I've found myself speaking publicly more--from filming a segment about my online business for the local news to speaking on an entrepreneurship panel.

I still remember the tidbits that professor "taught us"--and I've also created my own rules. I was fortunate enough to meet a seasoned pro--a woman who's been publicly speaking for many years--and she gave me some insight into her world.

I'll share her six little nuggets of wisdom with you today, in no particular order:

1. Focus on your strengths.

Do you know what happens when you try to string together a 15-minute talk about a subject you aren't familiar with? You forget your lines, say things that don't make sense, and cheat yourself. Stick to what you truly know and are comfortable with teaching to others.

When I try to discuss things I don't understand, I'm uncomfortable and worried about saying something stupid. When I discuss things I understand fairly well, I'm happy, confident, and relatable. Stick to what you know.

2. Be mindful of your outfit choice and accessories.

You may think your dress is long enough, but if you're standing up on a stage and people are just below you, too much leg is distracting. Sparkly jewelry in the light creates little beams of light that take attention away from your speech. You get the idea.

3. Practice by yourself in the mirror.

Your body language is just as important as your verbal language, if not more so. Sometimes, it gets awkward. Personally, I do this little thing where I hold my own hands--it makes me look like a T-rex.

When you're practicing your lines in the mirror, you're reinforcing your points--and you can see how you'll be presenting yourself. Shoulders back, some hand movements, but not too many.

The last panel I spoke on, my hands got a little out of control and I overly exaggerated something, knocking the giant microphone off balance. It was distracting for listeners--and for me.

4. Record yourself practicing.

You'll be able to tell if you're emphasizing the points you want to make, and where you need a little sprucing up. I do this over and over again, and when I blurt out a line I truly love, I make sure to include it from then on.

I even use my cat as my audience. He's a great listener.

5. Prepare for change.

Do you know what really sucks? When you've practiced to perfection and know your speech lasts 24.5 minutes only to find out you've now got about 10 minutes to talk because other people ran late.

Something similar to this has happened to me a number of times. The email will say "15-minute talk" and I get there, and it's a five minute talk. I have to chop my valid points down to the bare bones.

Always have a cheat sheet of the most important points you want to make, and fill in the blanks.

6. Settle your nerves.

A crowd of social media yielding people waiting for you to slip up so they can post your failure to YouTube sounds intimidating, but more times than not the listeners are betting on your success. Relax, and enjoy the event.

Be true to yourself and your subject, and let your knowledge flow. I have been overly stressed and over prepared a number of times only to realize I worked it up in my head, and in reality all people wanted to hear was an honest account of how I've built my business (failures and all).

Whether you're speaking to a classroom or an auditorium full of your peers, confidence is key. Prepare yourself by practicing and memorizing the bullet points you want to make and in what order, and your knowledge will help you to fill in the blanks if you forget your lines.

Everyone's favorite line is: "If you get nervous just picture everyone in their underwear." I never understand that, because what the heck are hundreds of people doing all sitting around in their underwear? To me, that's way more awkward than just speaking to them, but if it works for you go with it.

Try drinking a cup of herbal tea with honey too. It helps me to soothe my throat and my fears at the same time, perhaps it will be a good fit for you as well.