Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

How can you overcome the fear of public speaking

Throughout the year we have conferences where researchers present their work. Maybe you find yourself in that position right now. Master students finish their thesis and the presentation is until the end of July, or in September. PhD Students may go through a similar process. Whatever the reason, there is always a fear of presenting your work in public. How can you deal with that fear and overcome it?

 

During my PhD I had to present my work in numerous conferences and experienced the fear of speaking in public every single time. Even if I discovered each person experiences that fear differently. In my case I get sleepy and seem secure of what I’m saying, but deep down I’m as nervous as anyone else.

Overcoming this fear means overcoming the greatest critic of all… ourselves. Inside, each person has an inner critic which speaks loudly without saying a single word. And what he shouts the most is the fear of failure. What I’d like to share are the 3-Steps I follow every time I have to speak in public to overcome that fear and silence my inner critic. Steps I learned by experience.

Step #1. Preparation

There are two essential elements we need to prepare in most events where we do public speaking. A presentation and the discourse. First, I design the slides, but I already know they’ll change depending on the discourse.

Preparation means I rehearse over and over again until I’m tired and unable to speak anymore. Slides should evidence your discourse, thus, they should contain only the necessary text, images and seize as much as possible the entire screen. Whenever we use menus, logos, etc, which “consume” space we reduce the area where we can expand the results we want to show.

Preparing the discourse is essential to ensure you fulfill the time given to you and focus only on the essential words and sentences you really want people to hear.

Step #2. Humility

“Being humble simply means accepting to be who you are” (Pasquale Foresi)

This I learned from experience. Once I presented my results at a conference as they were, explaining them the best I could recognizing the limitations of my analysis. At the end, a researcher I admired came to congratulate on my presentation because I was humble. I never thought it produced an impact, but it does.

You are who you are. You don’t need to “show” you’re the best if you really are the best. And humility is a powerful thing to use to silence your inner critic because it teaching how to deal with humiliations.

People avoid humiliations and I relate with that because that is one of the worst experiences which makes me REALLY MAD. But, if you learn to deal with them, you learn to accept, love and prefer humiliations. Counter-intuitive, right?

If you don’t accept, you’ll never be able to deal with them. Loving them is more than accepting, it is a step toward realizing we can learn from them. And prefer them is to find happiness over them because you are detached from the unsound basis that led to them. This leads other to experience our humility, and this attracts others more than you realize.

Step #3. Relatedness

Again, I learn this from experience. After another presentation I made at a conference, at the end, a researcher I didn’t know came to thank me for my talk because it was not his topic and I explained in such way he could understand. He felt related with the topic.

I think this is an important step in public speaking. You should relate with you audience and think you may have in front of you someone who is not familiar at all with your topic. Speak to all as you’re speaking to that person.

When I think about that experience, I only remember I sought to present with simplicity. When I fear the judgment of others, I used to elaborate complex explanations to show them I’m smart and avoid questions. That is wrong. Clarity comes from simplicity. And simplicity leads to relatedness. And relatedness silences your inner critic and helps you succeed in public speaking.

QUESTION: Do you have another technique you use to overcome the fear of public speaking? Please share it in the comments field below.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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