1 – Stress

You think about appearing in public and you start to feel stress. Your mouth is dry, the heart starts beating faster, you get butterflies in your stomach, and your hands start sweating. Do you know this feeling? We have good news for you.

First, you are not alone.
Apparently, 20 percent of the mankind declare a fear of speaking in public. Some are more afraid of public appearance than of death. What is interesting is that many actors and singers hitting the headlines admit feeling stage freight. Such celebrities as Madonna, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and Luciano Pavarotti admitted to feeling stressed before public appearances. As you can see, stage fright affects everyone appearing in the spotlights on a daily basis. Secondly, if you feel stressed, don’t worry. That is good.

That means that you care and are excited.
The absence of stress means you are not committed. Keeping stress at the level that motivates rather than paralyses you is central to being successful.

How to cope well with stress?
First of all, prepare well. If you know what to communicate and to whom, you do not run into a strange room (late and out of breath) and your chances of success will improve. Furthermore, drive away all your bad thoughts. “What if I make a mistake?” Nothing. I will correct myself and continue the class. I will not let stress bother me.

2 – How to prepare

Prepare well but not too well. Lesson plan, the list of exercises to do and comment to convey are most advisable. It is a good idea to use the so-called mind map, i.e. a work plan in the form of a chart. In the centre of a piece of paper you write the topic of the class and add larger branches with issues to discuss and smaller branches where you add extra details. That is a better idea than writing a dozen pages of a paper to be read during a class. The mind map brings order to the thought train but prevents you from making a dull monologue. Tony Buzan explained at a TED conference why mind maps work:

It is worthwhile having a plan B. For example if you are going to plan a class entailing watching of video materials, always have at hand a scenario for a lesson without them in case of technical problems. If you are ready for various scenarios, you will keep calm when plans have to change.

3 – Be adequate for the situation

If you conduct a lesson for children, prepare songs, interesting games and try to reward the good answers (for example by giving candies). Let exercises take place not only in school desks but also in a circle with you, casually dressed and taking an active part. If you give classes concerning business vocabulary for employees of a company make sure to wear business attire and choose proper materials, e.g. exercises in writing official e-mails, or in talking to a customer. Whoever your students are, they must feel that you are the right person in the right place.

4 – Posture during public speeches

During classes, it matters what you say, but it is even more important how you say it. If you mumble looking at the tips of your shoes instead of looking at the group, you will not attract the attention of your students.

The rules are simple but your success depends on their application:

  • keep your back straight,
  • do not gesticulate excessively,
  • speak clearly addressing the group, but at the same time do not be too rigid.

Keep the head straight, speak clearly towards the group looking from time to time at faces of particular persons. If you speak when standing, keep legs slightly apart.

Watch the gestures you make. Scratching your nose, forehead, neck with your hand, covering your mouth – are all gestures of uncertainty. If you make them, your message is weakened. If you make too many nervous gestures, students are much less likely to focus on what you are telling them. It is your task to carry your point to the group, show them that you know what you are talking about. To achieve this target, you need to show that you are a person who knows what they are talking about and has the skill to convey this.

5 – Motivation

Draw listeners into your story.
How? It is a very good idea to use e.g. personal experiences. Besides explaining phrases and grammar, insert brief stories from your stay in the country whose language you teach or interesting stories about its residents you have met.

Do not be afraid to tell them about your problems connected with language learning – perhaps there was a situation when you had problems communicating with a foreigner? This will help students understand that everyone goes through similar problems before they start being able to communicate fluently in a foreign language. Show them the advantages of having the command of a language. For example where they can travel and what interesting things they can see. And of course, praise them for any progress in learning!

Check out how career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation:

6 – Attract the attention of listeners

Observe the group. What are they doing? Are they listening with interest? Asking questions? Are perhaps they are looking around the room? You must make them focus their all attention on you and the presented material. Vary your intonation so that your voice is not monotonous. Ask questions.

Surprise them.
Sometimes an exercise may be less relevant in terms of substance but exciting to keep their interest. The simple examples are word puns or states and cities – of course, in the language you teach. From time to time, acquaint the students with an interesting word, slang expression or just sing a song together. Perhaps doing this you will not teach them complex grammatical structures, but you will sure enliven the atmosphere. Make such an interlude whenever you see that students are not focused.

Tell jokes and provoke discussions (of course, in the foreign language). Refer to what you talked about or discussed earlier. Sometimes classes have to assume the form of a “show”.

7 – Ask them

Ask the group if they like the pace, style and method of conducting the classes and whether they understand everything. You need to adjust to their needs so that they assimilate as much of the knowledge you convey as possible. Therefore, do not be afraid to ask them and change your behaviour accordingly.

And how do you cope with building your self-confidence during public speeches? Perhaps you have your own methods we have not written about?
Share them in your comments.