Among the most commonly reported phobias in the world is a fear of public speaking. From a young age, we are presented with situations in which the ability to address some form of audience is necessary: be it a class presentation, a theatrical performance, or a try-out of sorts. These situations do not disappear as we age; rather, the stakes merely raise, and anxiety follows. Given the regularity of public speaking opportunities, it is best to address a fear of public speaking as early as possible.
It is critical to approach the fear with a growth mindset: remember that anxieties can always be worked through.
Acknowledge the Anxiety
The first thing you can do is refrain from ignoring the anxiety. Say it out loud, and claim it as your own. In order to break down a fear, you should start by evaluating your emotions and subconscious. Next, inject some rationalism and logic, and your fears will likely diminish. For example, if you are worried about what other people in the room may think of you, consider that the people you meet at Model UN conferences are individuals you will likely never encounter again outside of Model UN. If you attend a small, tight-knit circuit full of delegates who go to nearby schools, then consider that nobody ever remembers individual speeches made during Model UN conferences, and that no stumble or embarrassing situation could ever have any real impact on your future.
Nothing is worse than holding yourself back from your true potential.
Make a cognitive decision to shut down your fear and improve yourself for the better. You will not regret it.
Use Research as a Crutch
Delivering a speech is hard enough: doing so when you do not actually know what you are talking about makes the challenge 1000x more difficult. Come prepared to the conference, and spend the time necessary to properly familiarize yourself with the topic of debate. Researching the topic and brainstorming possible solutions is like giving yourself ammunition. The more you know about the topic, the more you will have to say. Getting up in front of that committee room and speaking will go by in a millisecond if you have a real point to make, one that you are passionate about. So, use the conference preparation process as a crutch, and you will be more likely to gather up the courage to raise that placard once the time comes.
Make Mistakes Loudly
The occasional stumble, mispronunciation, or filler word is nearly inevitable, even for the most trained public speaker. The difference is that nobody in the audience notices these small errors when the overall aura of the speaker is confident and collected. This is to say that speaking in an overly-hushed tone, keeping your eyes on the floor, and hunching over while delivering a speech are all behaviors that will only draw more attention to your discomfort. For someone with a fear of public speaking, any instruction to “just be confident” likely sounds like useless advice. In reality, though, you do not actually have to be confident. You just have to look like it.
The best strategy is just as cliché as you anticipate: fake it till you make it. Attempting to transform your holistic presence in front of an audience will be overwhelming, so instead, just focus on making a few tiny changes. Push your shoulders back, plant your feet, and project your voice. These three details are miniscule, and require almost no attention at all. They may make you feel as though you stand out, but in reality, they will help you blend in. This way, if you stumble, if you make an embarrassing mistake in the middle of your speech, the error will be far less noticeable to the audience, and you will be spared the humiliating stares.
Use Model UN Conferences to Practice, Practice, Practice
At All-American, we like to say that public speaking is like a muscle: it must be regularly stretched and pushed to new lengths in order to yield improvement and growth. The first speech at any conference will always be the scariest: for everyone, not just you. The single most important way that you can use Model UN to get over a fear of public speaking is by raising your placard. Model UN is a low-stakes environment full of people who are trying to improve public speaking skills. Take advantage of the learning space and use it to get some practice under your belt.
Make Motions, Raise Points to the Chair
If delivering a speech seems too intimidating to start, then begin with smaller opportunities to speak. Begin by making points to ask clarifying questions to the chair. Once that feels comfortable, then start making motions. Raising a motion for a moderated caucus requires that you set a topic: this provides an opportunity to voice an idea or concern that the committee has not yet discussed. If you read the room correctly, and garner support for your motion, then when it passes you will be granted an automatic speech. Luckily for you, the topic of the moderated caucus was something you chose, so you likely already have a point to make.
Clearly, participation in committee is on a scale. Start small to expand your comfort zone, and then by the end of a committee session, you will be ready to deliver a speech. More importantly, by expanding your comfort zone gradually, you are setting yourself up for success once you deliver that first speech, rather than throwing yourself into the deep end.
At the end of the day, Model UN is an extracurricular activity, and internally downplaying the importance of each conference is a good way to “lower the stakes”, per say. Ultimately, whether your speech is a radical success, or humiliating disaster, it really has no importance if the goal is personal growth.
Every highly competitive, veteran delegate has hilarious stories about disastrous speeches. The truth is, nobody remembers those stories except for us.
So, take a risk. What, in truth, do you really have to lose?
Related Article: The Art of the Perfect Opening Speech
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