The hardest part about public speaking is the voice inside your head that says you aren't good enough, or that you'll mess up. The inner critic is loud and it's not a cheerleader. 

The idea of speaking in front of others terrified me a few years ago. As an introvert, I've never enjoyed being the focus of attention and my anxiety would get the best of me. Now as a keynote speaker, I enjoy any opportunity to speak to an audience. It's a privilege to empower an audience with the lessons of my experiences and expertise. 

So how did I change? The success of my startup provided me with more opportunities to speak on behalf of the brand. I needed to step up and groom myself into a public speaker. This article focuses on the tangible tips that helped me evolve into the speaker I am today. Some are obvious, and some are not. Yet they are all powerful and transformative.

1. Know what you're going to say

The opportunity to speak in front of others is a gift. Someone is giving you the gift of their time and attention and you owe it to them to know what you want to say. As a public speaker, you want to leave audiences feeling grateful for your content and impacted by your presentation.

The best way to do this is to prepare ahead of time. Examine what you want to impart to the audience. What expertise or experiences can you share? What personal stories do you have to can build a stronger connection? What order should you present the information so it's received in the best way? 

Take the time to build a framework for your presentation and perform a few rounds of edits before finalizing it. This process should also include an examination of who your audience is and why they are there to listen. You want to deliver value every time you get on stage. 

2. Practice 

Once you know what you want to say, it's a very good idea to practice it frequently. Whether in front of others, or by yourself, regularly rehearse what you want to communicate to the audience. 

The goal here is not to become robotic, but rather to know the content so well that you can speak without thinking about it - especially when your nerves kick in. This gives you the mental space to feel embodied on stage, to pay attention to your audience and to have fun with the delivery. 

Practicing also includes getting on stage as often as possible. In the beginning, I said yes to every and any opportunity to speak - no matter if it was a panel or a solo presentation. I volunteered to moderate panels or give presentations to teams at a bigger company. The more you practice, the more you'll feel comfortable. 

3. Use the power of visualization 

So much of the anxiety we feel is because of the unknown. We create a negative anticipation of a future event: standing on stage in front of strangers. This creates the feeling of anxiety that feels like butterflies in your stomach. 

The power of visualization can help you remedy and diminish this experience. Instead of hiding from the fear, I believe you should lean into it. 

To do this, close your eyes and visualize these scenarios:

  • Visualize the audience and all those eyes on you.
  • Visualize the silence in the room before you start.
  • Visualize yourself feeling nervous and feel into the emotion of anxiety. 
  • Visualize yourself breathing and feeling confidence despite the nerves.
  • Visualize yourself delivering a great speech and having fun while doing it. 

This visualization exercise is powerful because it's likely you won't eliminate the stress or anxiety altogether. It's hard to change who you are in a short amount of time.

Instead, the goal is to own the anxiety and realize that you can perform in spite of it. The goal is to feel into those emotions so they don't surprise or harm you on stage. When the butterflies inevitably come, you'll feel right at home.

4. Realize that no one is judging you

It's natural to think that the everyone in the audience is watching you closely and judging your every move or word. Yet I've learned that the only voice that is judging you is your own. Most people in the audience are there to listen and learn from you. They don't know what you want to say and they don't know when you "mess up." 

If you don't believe me, then consider how much you judge the people you listen to as an audience member? How angry are you when they choke on a word? How much do you judge them for not being perfect? Probably not very much.

The inner critic is much louder than any audience member. Take the time to listen to the inner critic, thank it for its desire to protect you and then ask it to settle down. Counter this inner critic by thinking of all the great things you've done in your life and how you've overcome obstacles. Feel into the reality that this is just another obstacle and that you can do it. Be your own cheerleader. 

5. Watch your favorite celebrity

My good friend is a leading actor on TV, and he gave me great advice for how to become a more charismatic speaker: watch your favorite celebrities. I took him up on the advice and started watching interviews on YouTube with celebrities that resonated with me. 

Before too long, I realized that I was starting to absorb their confidence and their style. I noticed that they were often times playful and enjoyed themselves. I noticed how they articulated their opinions and spoke clearly. I try to embody that confidence and playfulness on stage when I speak. 

If you're curious, I focused on the following celebrities: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mahershala Ali, Amy Poehler, Keanu Reeves, Christoph Waltz and Ryan Gosling. The key is to pick a group that reflects the different parts of your personality, or the way you want to feel or appear on stage.

Final Word

The natural response to the anxiety of public speaking is to either avoid it or try to eliminate it. My experience and evolution has shown me that both efforts are impossible. I still feel nerves every time I go on stage and I've never been able to silence the voice in my head.

My success, and comfort, has come from owning those nerves and learning to perform despite them. Consider these tips and practice what you learn. You'll be a top speaker before you know it.  

Published on: Dec 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.