If you asked anyone who knew me in high school and university, they'd say I'd be the least likely person they knew to have a career in public speaking. I used to cringe at the thought of being asked to read in public. If a professor wanted a volunteer, I'd become nauseous while trying to find a way to remain invisible. 

However, in my senior year of undergraduate school, I was required to take a geography elective that included individual front-of-the-room presentations. My exam was on the history of the sport of Cricket. With time, my nerves began to ease and I was able to communicate effectively, which allowed us to let the audience decide our grade. 

Since then, I have stood in front of crowds of thousands, often as the only woman listed on the agenda or even in the room. I consider public speaking to be the "other social media" that allows you to reach your target market and add a personal touch to your brand in addition to posting for prospects.

Fear of public speaking is one of the top phobias in the world, according to Chapman University's 2017 survey of American fears. That's no surprise: Standing up in front of a crowd of strangers and sharing your story seems intimidating.

However, nothing grows your business like public speaking. Standing in front of your ideal target market and highlighting your expertise will have an overwhelming effect on closing more sales and increasing the value of your company. 

Speaking allows me to be accessible to my intended audience and close more lucrative deals in the least amount of time. You can spend all day buying targeted ads on social media, talk for 30 minutes on stage in front of your ideal audience, or do a five-minute segment on a talk show.

It comes down to productivity and value. I've found these three ways to overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Work the crowd before the event .

 Arrive early and network with the audience. Your interaction with the crowd prior to the event will give you a level of familiarity so that others can look forward to your talk.

In addition, you will win supporters before you are called to the stage. Familiarity in the audience is a great way to create up front value and influence and overcome fear.

I once spoke at an executive event for a group of senior women in engineering. I arrived early and had breakfast with the attendees.

During the meal, they expressed specific issues they wanted to hear during my session. From the stage, I made eye contact with them as I delivered responses to their specific questions, which worked favorably to win their trust.

2. Don't overthink your presentation .

 Practice as needed, but there comes a moment where you will become overwhelmed by overthinking. The more changes you make, the more you will doubt yourself, which will lead to fear.

Spend less time practicing and more time calming down your emotions by taking a few deep breaths before walking to the stage. I listen to music before each presentation--I happen to be fond of listening to calypso music before walking on stage. There's a story line and humor in most of the genre's songs, which allows me to focus.

3. Add humor .

I enjoy making my audience laugh. Adding a dose of humor provides a memorable experience for the audience and keeps them highly engaged with your talk.

I normally use parental humor to break the ice by sharing stories about my journey of juggling motherhood with being a founder. I recently shared in one of my slide decks during a presentation a photo where I accidentally burned cookies at home to highlight the balancing act.

Find an opening line that relates to your personal story and will allow the audience to connect directly with your message. Their response will lower the level of fear and increase your confidence on stage.

Published on: Mar 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.