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5 expert tips on how to get over your fear of public speaking

When Warren Buffett speaks, the world listens. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP/Getty Images)

‘Oracle of Omaha’ and investing superstar, Warren Buffett, has said it’s the one skill that can increase your value by 50 per cent.

There are countless situations where you might have to do some public speaking, whether it’s at a company presentation or a friend’s wedding.

And it pays to invest in this skill. Even the experts didn’t start out with a natural knack for it: Presentation Studio chief executive and author Emma Bannister said she suffered from jittering legs, sweaty palms and stuttering words when she spoke in public more than a decade ago.

Here are Bannister’s five tried-and-true deceptively simple tips on how she mastered the art of public speaking:

1. Practice makes perfect

Yes, you’ve heard this one before, and unfortunately there’s no getting past this age-old piece of advice. When you practise, make sure you practise out loud, not just in your head, Bannister advised.

“If you leave everything to the last hurried minute, you’ll make mistakes and focus too much on the butterflies in your stomach than on what you’re actually saying.

“Rehearse in as many different environments as possible until you are really comfortable with what you are saying,” she said.

2. Ease off the booze

If you’re tempted to drink more to calm the jitters, rethink – or at the very least, hold off – on that impulse.

“That short term feel-good moment can quickly turn to regret,” said Bannister. You don’t want your presentation to be remembered for its awful punchline, or for its laborious amount of waffle.

“Do yourself a favour and wait until your speech is over, then have a glass or two to celebrate.”

3. Turn the nerves into excitement

Why do you care about what you’re talking about? Why should other people care? Whatever it is you want to say, make that your focus and put your heart into it.

“When you’re into what you are saying then it’s easy for everyone else to be into it as well,” Bannister said.

“Tapping into what you’re feeling in the moment – like excitement, happiness or even sadness if it’s a cause you’re passionate about – will make you feel good, and help quell those jittery nerves.”

4. Breathe

The experts, before they were experts, struggled to keep this simple rule in mind, too.

“When I first started presenting I froze. I would literally stop breathing and the oxygen stopped flowing into my brain so I had no idea where I was in my speech,” Bannister said.

It’s important to learn how to breathe under stress, she added. The breath has to start from “deep down into your stomach not high up in your throat as you restrict your voice and your oxygen flow”.

“If your voice starts to crack and you feel like you need water, it is actually your ‘drowning’ reflex kicking in because you are allowing your fear to take over. So if you’re struggling, take a deep breath and do point 4.”

5. Smile

Your body responds to itself, so even if you smile when you don’t feel like it, often you’ll actually start to mean it.

Plus, when you smile, you relax and you look like you’re enjoying yourself, which will have an impact on the people you’re trying to speak to.

“People smile back and they enjoy themselves as they mirror your response,” Bannister said.

“It doesn’t matter what technical difficulties you experience or if you’ve just stuffed up a big joke, above all else, the one thing you do want to be remembered for is your smile.”

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