It’s no surprise to hear that the biggest fear in America is public speaking. People tend to get very nervous when they talk in front of people in fear of messing up and getting embarrassed. As a professional magician I have talked in front of thousands of people over hundreds of different shows all across the country. I have had times where I felt on top of the world and everybody loved me, and I’ve had times where I wanted to get out of the venue as soon as possible because I bombed so hard. These are the lessons I’ve learned over the years that have stuck with me and have made me a better public speaker
Know Your Stuff
The most common symptom of feeling nervous before speaking in public is being unprepared. Not knowing your stuff means you are more prone to making a mistake which would likely make you feel embarrassed. If you know everything you’re going to talk about inside and out, there is a much lower chance of you having any mess-ups. And if you do happen to mess up, knowing your stuff will allow you to get back on track in an instant and people will likely forget your mistake.
Mess Up on Purpose
This definitely seems counterintuitive because if your biggest fear is messing up, why would you want to purposefully make a mistake? A lot of people believe that something is bound to go wrong, so when you mess up a little in the beginning (whether it’s flubbing a word or losing your spot for a second), the mistake is out of the way and you will only get better from there. By setting the bar low, you’re able to show how truly great you are in the rest of the speech.
Also, if the mistake is on your own terms, it can be minimal and doesn’t have to completely derail the entire thing. Just remember, messing up isn’t always a bad thing.
Don’t Make Eye Contact
This also seems counterintuitive because whenever you talk in public the goal is to make a connection with the people you’re speaking to. It's most important that the words spoken connect with the audience, but you don’t have to look people in the eyes. Just by scanning the audience and looking at their foreheads, you never have to catch anybody’s eye, but it gives the impression that you’re looking at them and making a connection. Catching somebody’s eye can sometimes throw you off, especially if they’re making an unfavorable expression, but you can circumvent that completely by just looking at their foreheads. Foreheads are emotionless and definitely won’t make you feel like you’re doing a bad job.
Think About the Worst that will Likely Happen
If we’re being honest, the worst that COULD happen is any number of horrible things from peeing your pants to fainting on stage. Although that is the worst that could happen, that is not the worst that will likely happen. What is more likely is you either stumble on your words a bit or lose your spot for a second. This might feel like a big deal, but think back to the last time you saw someone speak in public and they stumbled on their words, if you can even remember that. These mistakes seem so big in the moment, but they get lost in everything else that is being said, especially if the content is solid. And if you do remember the last time you saw someone stumble speaking in public, how much did you judge them? You probably didn’t at all, you were probably more likely to empathize with them. If that’s your reaction, that’ll probably be the same way most of the audience will feel about you if you make a mistake. It is easy to think that any little error will be picked apart by your audience members, but it’s important to remember how little these errors truly are.
Even when you’re equipped with all of these tips and tricks, that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is going to be a breeze. Your hands may still quiver and your voice will sound shaky at times, but the most important thing is that you’re going out there and doing it. The more you do anything the less and less scary it becomes. My hands still shake every once in a while when I’m on stage, but they shake about ten times less than they did at the beginning of my career. This is a matter of getting your reps in and being easy on yourself no matter the outcome.