Many people are afraid of public speaking. It’s not the speaking, it’s the public part. The fact that they’re in front of people. They’re worried that the audience won’t like their speech, or they’ll judge them for stumbling on words or forget key points and everyone will know.
One strategy for overcoming this fear is to get to know your audience. Whether you’re presenting in front of 100 people or around the boardroom table, get to the venue early. Check out the space you’ll be presenting in, go through your notes to ensure that everything’s there, and if no one’s around, even practice a bit. Then stick around, wait for the people to come in, and mix and mingle.
“Ugh”, you’re thinking, “I can’t do that, they’re the enemy!”. Nope, they’ve come to hear you speak, not throw rocks! Getting to know them will help you realize we’re all just human beings.
One of the best pieces of advice given to me early on in my career was to be interested rather than interesting. (I mean before your speech, not during.) The audience has read your bio or knows the product you’re selling, so you don’t need to talk about that (unless they ask you, of course). Ask about them. Try to find as much about a person as possible. Were they born in this city or did they move for a job or a special person? What do they like about their chosen career? Do they have kids, pets or both?
This helps in two ways: The audience member feels special and that you are not just there to tout your stuff. And you have some friendly faces in the audience to talk to when giving your presentation. Before you even get up behind the lectern, you’ve built a relationship with some audience members. They’re now pulling for you to succeed.
Getting to know your audience will ease your anxiety and you may even make a friend!