In September, I had the chance to speak on a PR/media panel at the MINDBODY BOLD conference in San Diego. It was a huge milestone because for the first time, I was able to speak in front of a large group of people without completely panicking from anxiety.
This is a milestone that’s been years and a ton of hard work in the making, and I thought other fitness professionals who have a fear of public speaking could learn from how I got myself to this point. With this in mind, here are a couple strategies I used to overcome my fear of public speaking.
During my first public speaking event, I attempted to memorize a speech in the days leading up to it. I read my statements over and over both internally and verbally, and practiced speaking them exactly as they were written.
But this is where I made a mistake — I became obsessed with speaking the words exactly as they were written. So, when the time came for me to talk and the words didn’t come out exactly as I’d originally planned, I visibly panicked.
Thankfully, I was in a room filled with forgiving and kind people, so my mini-freak out wasn’t that big of a deal. But I did learn a valuable lesson, and that was to not become obsessed with memorizing a speech word for word. From that point on, I instead relied on a list of talking points — a general overview of the things/points I wanted to make sure I conveyed. That way, I wouldn’t panic if things weren’t being said in the exact same way/order as originally planned.
As with any problem, the first step is recognition. After I panicked during my first speaking event, I quickly realized: “I’m terrified of speaking in public.” And I knew the only way for me to overcome that fear would be through practice.
So, I started doing “Behind the Cover” video interviews that involved me sharing my thoughts on camera on that’s month cover story for Club Solutions. The idea was to force me to get used to sharing my thoughts in a public forum. And as an added bonus, the magazine received extra digital content.
What was great about this strategy is that it provided a “safe” space for me to practice public speaking. Because I wasn’t in front of a live audience, if I messed up we could just hit erase and start over again.
And at first, I messed up a lot. During the first six months of videos, it took me five or six tries to speak fluidly without messing up. Today, I usually get it on the first or second try.
Of course, the videos aren’t the same thing as speaking in front of a large, live audience — but they have been instrumental in getting me in the habit of speaking to an audience in general, live or otherwise.
In addition to the videos, I also jumped at any opportunity I had to speak in public, no matter how much it scared me. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” and I knew I’d never get better if I let my fear keep me from public speaking altogether.
So I just kept doing it, and each time I got better. Each time I had less anxiety. Each time I became more comfortable. Each time I did better.
Which led me to the MINDBODY BOLD conference — my best public speaking performance yet. Today, I feel confident in saying I’ve overcome my fear of public speaking once and for all.
For those who also struggle with speaking in public, here are a few other things I learned throughout this journey:
Speak slowly. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to speak as quickly as possible (so the experience would be over sooner rather than later). But this increases the chances of you stumbling over your words. Take your time. Give your brain enough time to not only process what you’re saying in the moment, but what you’re about to say as well.
Embrace the nerves. Almost everyone gets nervous to speak in public, even those who’ve been doing it for years and years. Instead of attempting to get rid of the nerves altogether, embrace them by viewing them as excitement or positive anticipation. In the past I’d obsess over the thought I was feeling nervous, versus just accepting them as an inevitable aspect of public speaking.
Don’t give up. If you’ve spoken in public before and completely bombed, learn from the experience and move on. Although your instinct may be to never speak in public ever again, fight it. Because you can get better if you put in the work, have patience and faith in yourself.
Rachel Zabonick is editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.