Trying to find someone who enjoys public speaking is probably harder than finding a needle in a haystack. The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, speaking in front of people – no matter whether it’s at work or as part of a hobby – is uncomfortable.
After all, it’s pretty unnatural to stand up in front of a room full of people and speak non-stop for 20 minutes, right?
On the other side of the issue, however, lies another undeniable fact: public speaking will always be a part of life. At one time or another, we’ll all have to face our fear of speaking in front of a crowd. And when – according to exclusive research commissioned by Stylist – only one in 10 women aged 25-40 have high levels of self-esteem, the problem may be even bigger than we realise.
So, what can we do about it? Just because you have a fear of public speaking, doesn’t mean that you have to succumb to a lifetime filled with dread every time someone asks you to do a presentation. Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect that we’ll all suddenly fall in love with public speaking – but if we can find ways to give ourselves a bit of extra confidence when we do have to face these inevitable moments in our careers, then that’s pretty great.
That’s why we sought the expert advice of Mary Meadows, a life coach, NLP practitioner and founding member of the Speakers Collective (who also happens to do a lot of public speaking as part of her job), to share some of her top confidence boosting tips. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Set yourself up to win
According to Meadows, one of the easiest things we can do when we know we’re going to have to do some public speaking is making sure we’re fully prepared or ‘putting our best foot forward’.
“You’ve got to make sure that you’re setting yourself up to win,” she says. “I make sure that I practice the speech – that I know what I’m going to be talking about. I make sure that, in the week leading up to it, I eat really well and water myself and all those kinds of things.”
She continues: “I think setting yourself up to win is something that’s underestimated in a lot of cases, not just with public speaking. For example, if you have a big meeting in the morning, you wouldn’t go out drinking the night before. So, setting yourself up to win is the first step.”
It’s important to remember that setting yourself up to win might look different for everyone, depending on what your needs are. If you get really anxious about public speaking the night before the event, for example, you may prioritise winding down and getting a good night’s sleep by having a hot bath or avoiding technology.
2. Banish that negative self talk
The messages we send ourselves are often more powerful than we think. Our self-talk – aka the inner monologue we tell ourselves – can be pretty bad for our self-esteem, so it’s important that we identify the messages we’re sending ourselves and intervene when they’re getting destructive.
“Checking in with the stories we tell ourselves is important,” Meadows explains.
“We need to identify what story we’re telling ourselves about our confidence levels and public speaking skills, and then ask: is it true or helpful?”
3. Reflect on past mistakes
When something goes wrong in the middle of a public speaking engagement, it’s easy to catastrophise and think that the same thing will happen every time you stand up to speak. But in reality, that’s just not true.
“It’s really important when something goes wrong in any situation, that you reflect on what happened,” says Meadows. “Instead of burying your head in the sand and thinking ‘okay, I’m either A: not even going to bother doing it because it will go wrong again, or B: you know, I’m just going to hope it doesn’t happen again’, reflect on what went wrong and how it went wrong, and be really self-compassionate about it, as if we were talking to a friend.
“Also think about why things went wrong, what we could have done to stop it or how we could have changed it, and then come up with a plan. I think when you have a plan you feel better. You feel more confident when you know you’ve got a plan B and you’re confident with that plan B.”
4. Be your own cheerleader – literally
There’s a reason we all fell in love with Jerry from Cheer on Netflix last month – it’s great to see someone cheering themselves and others on. And in Meadows’ opinion, we all need a bit of that optimistic approach every now and then.
“I send voice messages to myself when I’m on a high after a talk which went well,” Meadows explains.
“I record myself saying ‘Oh my God Mary you were just amazing, and this was some of the great feedback you got. It’s just incredible, well done you’ and then I save it to an album on my phone called ‘Cheerleader’. It’s just me sending videos to myself so if I’m in a situation where I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this. It’s really hard’, that’s where I would go and listen to myself cheerleading myself.”
5. Use your body language to project confidence
When it comes to public speaking, a lot of us are understandably worried about coming across as confident and authoritative to our audience, especially when we’re losing it on the inside. According to Meadows, there’s one small thing we can all do to feel better in this department– and it comes down to our body language.
“Amy Cuddy has a really relevant piece of research for this,” Meadows points out. “It’s all about ‘power posing’, and the difference that our body language can make.”
Referring to her own experiences, Meadows explains what positions will help us to feel more confident as we begin to speak.
“Stand with your shoulder back, standing up straight, with your feet firmly on the ground,” she says. “I know there was an artist that did a performance barefoot, and I can totally understand them doing that because it makes you feel really grounded and confident when you can feel on the floor. So anything you can do to create that feeling of groundedness is great.”
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She adds: “Also don’t give yourself anything to play with by making sure that your hair is away from your face and that there’s nothing to fiddle with on your clothing.”
6. Have a uniform
When it comes to dressing for a public speaking engagement, only one thing really matters: comfort.
“I have a signature outfit that I feel really confident in,” Meadows explains. “I wear a short black dress, and I have these pink glitter trainers (they’re amazing), and they’re both part of my brand colours. I basically have a uniform that I wear, which makes me feel very comfortable.”
As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.