How To Not Suck at Public Speaking (or at least not die while trying)

Picture this. It’s Wednesday morning and your teacher has just assigned a five-minute presentation for due in a week. Cue the panicking! We’ve all been there. About 75% of the world suffers from glossophobia, or fear of public speaking (fun word, right?). When you add an anxiety disorder to your everyday life, a presentation of any length can seem like the end of the world. In my opinion, I am the worst public speaker in the world. At one point in middle school, I refused to participate in every school presentation because my anxiety was so bad. Luckily, over the past few years, I’ve gotten better at faking it and can usually make it through a speech without puking or having a panic attack in front of everyone. A couple of things have helped me get to this point and I’ve created a routine to help me not die when it comes to public speaking.

Here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety and ace that presentation!

  1. Contact your instructor.

The first thing I’d recommend doing is contacting your teacher before your presentation is due. The easiest way to do this is through email, which has been my saving grace during high school. As someone who absolutely hates raising her hand in class, you can imagine how much I love staying after class to talk to my teachers and ask questions(if you haven’t figured it out: I basically hate it). When I started high school, I started sending emails to my new teachers at the beginning of each semester, just to introduce myself and give them a little heads up about my anxiety. Most of the time, my teachers would reply with a few words of encouragement and the assurance that their door was always open if I needed to work through something, which was exactly what I was looking for. As long as my teacher understood that I wouldn’t be using my mental health as an excuse to get out of things, I could work towards getting over my fears and doing my best in the class. Knowing that my teachers were aware of the situation made me feel a bit more at ease, and helps me communicate with them in the future. Once you have your assignment, reach out to your teacher to let them know that you’re feeling nervous about the presentation and if you’re up to it, set up a time to meet with them one-on-one to discuss your plan.

2. Make a schedule.

One thing I’ve learned about how I deal with my anxiety is that I procrastinate. A lot. In all honesty, my time management skills suck and when I’m feeling nervous about a presentation, I tend to put off working on it until the last minute. Obviously, this isn’t a good idea, because when you wait till the last minute, you’re left panicking about finishing it until the last second. Something that I’ve only recently started doing is making a planner for each project I have to do, setting due dates for myself and breaking down each step into smaller tasks. I found that by having a specific time frame to complete something, it leaves less room for me to procrastinate and also gives me more time to have teachers proofread and help me prepare for the actual presentation. It also makes a huge assignment seem more manageable since I’m not rushing to cram at the last second.

3. Do your homework.

Another thing that helps me get through a presentation is making sure I know what I’m talking about. Take notes, ask your teacher questions, and do plenty of research on your topic. By being well prepared, you’ll feel more confident about your presentation, and a little extra confidence is never a bad thing when you’re struggling with anxiety. Plus, being a little over-prepared can help if you’re giving a five-minute speech that suddenly turns into a three minute and 46-second speech because you rushed through the whole thing (guilty as charged!). By having some extra information on hand, you can avoid losing points for not making the time requirement, even if the transition is a little awkward and unexpected. That being said, don’t let this stress you out. If you’ve worked on your project for 4 hours, you should totally take a break. Go for a walk, eat some ice cream, take a nap, watch This Is Us, do something to help yourself relax! Don’t work yourself to death over this project. As long as you manage your time wisely, you should be able to complete your assignments with enough time to breathe.

 

So your research is all finished and it’s finally the big day. And you feel like you’re gonna have a heart attack. Don’t worry, this is pretty normal (I’ll bet anxiety sufferers and I are all too familiar with that feeling).

 

Now what?

1. Everyone says to make sure you eat a good breakfast before you have a big presentation, but personally, when I’m feeling anxious, I can’t even smell certain foods without dry-heaving. I’d play it by ear and go off of how you feel. If eating something before your presentation helps you calm down and feel less anxious, then, by all means, eat your breakfast and enjoy it! If breakfast makes you want to puke, then hydrate and drink two glasses of water before you leave the house (just don’t forget to use the bathroom before your presentation!).

2. Get to class early. Rushing, as we’ve discussed many times throughout this post, is never smart. So why would you want to be rushing to class? Make sure to get there early enough so you have time to sit down, organize your notes, use the bathroom, and talk to your teacher if you need to. Giving yourself those few extra minutes will help you to relax a bit before you speak.

Here’s what I don’t recommend doing while you present

1. Picturing the audience in their underwear. I don’t know who thought this was a good idea, but personally, I feel like picturing my history teacher in his underwear would actually make me a million times more anxious because that’s just weird and creepy. Don’t do that. Instead try to focus on the fact that the people watching you are exactly that- they’re people, just like you. There’s probably at least three other people in your class who are just as terrified as you, two who are even more anxious about it, and six who didn’t bother to put any effort into the assignment. Ignore them. Focus on your presentation, taking your time, and getting it done. The important thing to remember is that you have the advantage because you read this article!

2. Try not to overthink if anyone makes noises or comments during your presentation. During my freshman year, I was giving a speech in English class and my teacher made a weird sighing sound. I spent the next two minutes of my speech trying to figure out if he made that noise for a reason, if he was trying to signal me to stop or slow down, or if I had just imagined it. Needless to say, that speech ended with me speeding through the conclusion and losing five points all because my teacher was avoiding a cough. Sometimes, people are gonna be rude and whisper or laugh during your presentation. This will make you feel like you’re doing terrible. But when that happens, you have to do three things: take a deep breath, slow down, and keep going. Just keep in mind that those people are probably the same ones who didn’t do their work and won’t do their best on their own presentation.

 

Final tip!

Just try to remember that it’s perfectly okay to feel uncomfortable. You are probably going to hate every single second of every single minute you have to spend talking in front of people. I know I do! But as much as I hate to admit it, we’re gonna be speaking in front of people for the rest of our lives and it’s going to suck sometimes. But right now, my personal goal is to just get up there and try to speak when someone asks me to and to learn how to be okay with being uncomfortable the whole time. I want to accept that there will be times when I do absolutely amazing on a presentation and in those cases, we should celebrate because that’s going to take courage and time. I also want to accept that there will also times where I screw up and panic. That’s okay too because as long as I put effort into it, I’m getting better. So if you’ve learned nothing from reading this, at least know that trying means you’re doing it and it’s the effort you put into something that counts the most! Set goals for yourself and when you reach them, set the bar even higher!

 

Stay tuned and follow for notifications! New post coming next Friday from RV’s Ms. Thornton!

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