I am a senior in college, and extremely shy. In order to graduate, I have to successfully complete a public speaking class, which I have put off as long as possible. I am registering for my final classes, and have to take this Spring semester. The thought of getting up in front of a roomful of people makes me want to throw up. Do you have any advice for me on how to overcome my fears?
Dear Shy Lady:
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out that a survey showed that American feared public speaking more than death; making the joke that if someone were at a funeral, they would prefer to be in the casket than giving the eulogy. Perhaps that is nothing more than a fallacy, but it is a joke that makes many people smile – which is one way to overcome your fears. Laughter, it is said, is the best medicine. It helps you to relax, which makes it easier to make a presentation.
Another way to overcome your fear of speaking before a large group of people is to pick a spot on the wall just above the head of the person in the center row, and look at that spot instead of at the audience. From the distance that is between you and the front row, it will not be noticeable that you are not making direct eye contact. Taking a few deep breaths before going up to present will help settle your jitters, as will thinking relaxing thoughts.
My Mommie (who types these responses for me) has been involved in making public presentations since she was a child, and she asked me to pass along this advice that has always worked for her: When you get up in front of the room, scan the audience from one side of the room to the other, and imagine that all they are wearing is underwear – and not their underwear, but something that would look incongruous to their personality. Imagine the stiff prude wearing something racy from Frederick’s of Hollywood; the Sharon Stone look-a-like in granny panties; the too-cool-for-words guy in the backwards baseball cap in tighty-whities; and the most conservative man in the room in a “Borat mankini” . Aside from making you giggle, it will also give you a boost of confidence, like you have a secret that nobody else knows.
In the meantime, don’t fret bridges you may not have to cross. Any experienced Public Speaking professor will understand that students are nervous about presenting, and will have many of their own tips on how to relax and even learn to enjoy public speaking.