Few things are as intimidating as speaking in front of a large crowd.
They all have their eyes on you, they’re listening closely and scrutinizing every word, they may even be judging you. Of course, none of that is true half of the time, but that’s what’s going through your head.
But you know who else absolutely hates public speaking? Virgin Group billionaire and British eccentric Richard Branson. It’s hard to believe that someone who was constantly pitching ideas, meeting with investors, and giving interviews would detest speaking in public, but it’s true.
“I loathe making speeches, and always have,” said Branson in a blog post on Entrepreneur. He still cringes at the memory of having to give his very first speech in front of his classmates at school. But over the years, Branson has become accustomed to facing the dreaded crowds, thanks to a few valuable tips he’s picked up along the way. They may very well help you overcome your own fear too.
1. Imagine you’re having a friendly chat
In an interview with Business Insider, Branson almost bashfully explained how someone once told him to imagine he was having a chat with a friend in his living room.
After receiving this seemingly simple advice, every time Branson is tasked with public speaking, he ignores the fact there are millions of people watching him. Instead, he casually sits on stage and pretends he’s telling a story to a group of friends.
It takes practice to fully convince yourself, but once you do, it removes a lot of the anxiety that makes public speaking difficult.
2. Always prepare
“Impromptu speaking – that is a difficult thing. I used to begin about a week ahead, and write out my impromptu speech and get it by heart.”
So don’t panic if you’re not the best at making spontaneous jokes. Prepare them, rehearse them, and learn to recite them so well that they sound like you just thought of them on the spot.
3. Practice, practice, practice
You probably sighed at this one. Everyone says the same thing, “practice makes perfect!” While it’s not the magic solution you were hoping for, practice is truly how anyone gets better at anything.
To support this point, Branson always refers to Winston Churchill, who said he averaged an hour’s preparation for every minute of a speech. Put it this way: if you’re not hearing your speech in your dreams, then you haven’t practiced enough.
Branson ends his post with another Mark Twain quote:
There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1. The nervous. 2. Liars. So if you’re nervous, you’re in good company.
Now here’s an exercise for you. Take these tips and use them while practicing a speech in front of a mirror, or your pets, or your partner. You’ll feel silly at first, but the only way you’ll stop feeling anxious about public speaking is if you get so accustomed to doing it that it almost becomes second nature.
If an entrepreneur like Branson who constantly lives in the public eye can do it practically every day, then you can certainly do it for that one meeting or event. Good luck!