Is speaking or presenting in public a big fear for you? It is for many and it was for me.

You may not be surprised to hear that research has shown that for many the fear of speaking or presenting in public rates higher than that of dying.

Even chairing a meeting or leading a discussion with just a few people used to make me feel nervous.

Going back to school days I dreaded the teacher asking a question, and then the silence, and then ‘Debra, what do you think?’

I couldn’t think. My mind went totally blank, my face went very red and I could feel my heart racing.

It was ridiculous but for many I know these issues are familiar. I’ve seen it so many times since then in other people, and I truly empathise.

My college days were no easier, but things gradually changed for me when I first started work; a job I really wanted ‘working with people’.

I found people fascinating and still do, even though back then I was very shy.

I became a government official and at the grand age of eighteen, and after only 6 months of training I found myself sitting behind a screen in the reception area of the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS as it was known then), advising claimants on all types of benefits.

overcome fear of public speaking

You may wonder where my story is going? In writing this I wanted to reflect on what really made a difference? How did I overcome my fear of speaking in public and running presentations? I believe this was the start.

It’s sometimes the simplest and most obvious changes that can help you. It may take some time and it will certainly take small achievable steps to get there.

My story continues . . . . . . I didn’t have a choice about the actual role I was assigned within the DHSS. I was considered a fully fledged ‘Clerical Officer’ and one of the roles that many officers disliked was dealing with enquiries on the reception desk. It was often given to the ‘rookie’. For me it was certainly a ‘baptism of fire’. I was a young and inexperienced girl.

At that time without the technology we have today, many people did not receive the benefits to which they were entitled on time, they would come to the office to enquire; often they had no support with language barriers and interpreters were rarely used. Often people were upset if they had to wait, and usually they did.

Looking back, I know I was out of my comfort zone, but it was part of my job and I wanted to help people.

Usually I was talking to one person at a time, trying to sort out their problem.

Despite the booth layout of the reception area I knew that others could hear me talking. It was uncomfortable and in today’s world an unacceptable situation.

This probably was my first ‘audience’. In effect I was presenting and ‘speaking in public’ and due to circumstances meant the claimants were not always happy.

Lesson No 1 when speaking in public: Be brave and get on with it – what do you have to lose? You have a job to do. Whether you have chosen that job, or it has been given to you. Do your best and forget about how you may be feeling.

My second position eleven years later was as a medical receptionist for a GP Practice. Again, working with people but this time with patients and medical professionals.

My job was to find out what patients required. I then had to communicate clearly and concisely in what was another busy environment, often under difficult circumstances and again with an ‘audience’.

I know, as before, that I felt I was being viewed and it was important for me and the organisation to be considered professional; to be helpful, supportive and provide the patients with what they required.

Lesson No 2: Find out what your ‘audience’ want and need and provide it for them.

My third position was as a business owner.

At the age of thirty-two I opened a pre-school and day nursery business. This was when presenting became a big part of what I had to do. I needed to be a credible leader, manager and professional.

I was employing and training staff, seeking recognition in a sector in which I initially had no training or experience and providing a much-needed service for working parents. It was important for me, to be totally reliable and professional, at all times.

I held parent days, open days, staff training events and held a range of meetings with experts in the field and local government officials. I needed to be clear about my intentions and provision of a quality service to run a successful business. I was accountable.

Developing the best possible presentation skills was critical; both written and verbal; policies, procedures and contracts had to be written, understood and promoted – everyone needed to know where they stood. The role I had to play and how I could help and support others; staff, children and parents.

Lesson No 3: Work on building rapport (a good relationship with your audience), allow 2-way exchange, ask open-ended questions, obtain views, seek feedback and provide thoughts, ideas and solutions. Be clear.

My fourth position was as an advisor and trainer with the local authority.

Prior to taking up this post and for my own self-development as a business owner and professional, I had previously considered the most important aspects of my role and decided where my weaknesses were and where there was room for improvement. I am a strong believer in doing a good job and yet knowing that I can always do better. Striving to be the best that I can be.

Presenting was one of those skills. I was not where I wanted to be.

There are many short courses and many more materials, resources and YouTube videos as well as real-life opportunities to develop skills in different ways than there were when I was looking.

Getting the help that you need to develop your confidence in this area of work is so important. Seek out opportunities to present on a small scale.

Ask to lead a meeting or to talk on a topic of interest with a group of friends or work colleagues.

Ask a person that you consider to be a good presenter to give you constructive feedback about your performance and whether you got your intended message across.

There are so many ways to overcome your fear of presenting. The more you step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, the more confidence you will have and the better you will become.

If you bury your head in the sand and hope that the fear will go away, then nothing will change for you.

Lesson No 4: There really are steps that only you can take to overcome your fears and present yourself confidently in a way that you are comfortable with. Be yourself but seek that help. I would hate to be that person I was in my school and college days. I know that I would be if I had not taken those first steps!

My current post is working as an independent advisor, trainer and coach.

I work primarily with small business owners and managers of day nurseries, nursery and pre-schools. I have however worked within the voluntary and private sector; within education, the NHS and within a corporate unit.

My work focuses on developing skills for work and around leadership and management but so often these skills also enhance one’s life outside of work.

So many people want to develop more harmonious relationships that nurture independence but also inter-dependency to get the best out of people. I have worked with many individuals to support them in achieving personal goals.

My more recent qualifications, as well as 30 years of experience in a leadership and management role provide me with the skills and attributes to interact with others effectively.

Lesson No 5: Seek help and support if you need it to boost your confidence in speaking in public and/or with presentation skills.

Please consider the support that I can offer by way of Personal Development Coaching. See: Personal Development Coaching and the success story here of a client that overcame her fear of ‘speaking out’,  this gave her the confidence that she needed to achieve her goal.

See also my ‘Top Tips on Developing Presentation Skills’ here or please call me on 07470 235 250 for a chat or use my contact form to enquire about the support that I can offer.