There’s no reason to fear public speaking, even if you’re talking to the future droids in this lecture hall. Image courtesy of Flickr user Squirmelia. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC-SA.Public speaking can be terrifying–an estimated 95% of people experience some anxiety when speaking in front of groups. Unfortunately for everyone except that lone 5%, college is full of public speaking requirements: speaking up as a member of a club, for example, or having to give the first of many class presentations. However, with these tips you can hopefully reduce your public-speaking stress and give killer presentations.

Be Prepared - Part of the terror of public speaking comes from a fear of screwing up publicly. You can reduce this chance (and as a result, the fear) by preparing beforehand: make a bullet-pointed outline for your speech, for instance. If you’re doing a powerpoint presentation in class, be sure not to have everything on the powerpoint–instead, put bullet-pointed cues on the slides and expand upon them while speaking (it’s okay to have personal notecards with the expanded information on them). This way you’ll look like you know what you’re talking about by giving the audience information that only comes from you, rather than your visual aids. In addition to looking competent, an outline or notecards will give you something to go back to should you get completely flustered.

Rehearse - Your visual aids and notes won’t amount to much if you act like you’re seeing them for the first time. You may feel like an idiot doing it, but practicing in front of your mirror will make you more comfortable with what you’re saying, will help you grow less dependent on your notecards, and will give you a sense of how long your presentation is running so that you’re not taken aback by time constraints during your actual presentation. After you’ve gone over it in the mirror a few times, find some friend (preferably someone who will be a part of the audience for your real presentation) and do your spiel in front of them. That way you’ll get a little bit of a sense of how people will actually respond to your presentation (do you need to pause for laughter? Are you being unclear?) and you won’t be quite so taken aback by a group of people responding. Of course, if your audience member has to present something too, it’s only good form to offer to be an audience for them in return.

Make Eye Contact – This is part of why you were aiming for someone in your intended audience for the last step–when you present, ask them to sit somewhere you can see them. That way, if you get freaked out by being focused on by lots of people, you can just make eye contact with someone you’ve already presented to. If that person helped you rehearse, they’ve already got some investment in you–they’ll be an encouraging presence. If you can work up the nerve to do it, make eye contact with other friendly faces during the presentation. If nothing else, it will reassure you that you have at least a few people paying attention, and it will reduce a seemingly faceless audience into individuals. You can talk to individuals–you do it all the time!

Smile - This goes along with making eye contact. Smiling a little will encourage your audience to smile back–people like being smiled at. Since your smile will be mirrored back by at least a few people in the audience, it will multiply your humble little facial expression back at you, and if a bunch of people are smiling at you while you present it will help calm you down. If an audience puts you at ease, your presentation will be light years smoother, and that will put your audience more at ease. It’s a cycle of reciprocal excellence.

Put it in Perspective/Be Okay With Change - I have a professor who consistently seems like he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown during lecture. It’s not that he doesn’t know the material–he does–it’s that he has a complete inability to deal with changes to what he’s rehearsed. So, when the SMART Board breaks or he doesn’t bring a book, or switched his bag with his daughter’s, he clearly gets nervous and stressed out in front of us. But you know what? None of the class judges him–we like that he seems human, and he has a devoted student following in part because his frantic lecture style makes us trust him. If you’re presenting, try not to freak out about changes (it’s just stressing you out), but be okay with being startled or nervous–chances are high that you’re presenting to a room full of your peers way more focused on themselves than on you, anyway. If they do bother to notice, chances are high that their sympathies lie mostly with you, their fellow student.

Volunteer to Go First - If you can, just bite the bullet and do it. First off, it makes you look courageous (in the eyes of your peers) and prepared (in the eyes of your professor). Secondly, and perhaps even better, if you go first and the presentation happens to totally bomb? Everyone will forget about it as soon as the next person stands up in front. It’s a win-win for you, the nervous presenter.

Commenters: Got any public speaking tips or tricks that have helped you out? Like to imagine people in their underwear? Let us know!