If life were a game of "would you rather?", 74% of people would rather die than speak in public. Considering the finality of the first option, it's probably better to get a handle on getting in front of an audience.
Besides, public speaking is linked to career success: it creates a perception that you're an expert in your field and it can be an opportunity to motivate people. I used to be terrified of speaking in public too, but was forced to overcome my fear so I could network with other entrepreneurs and promote my business.
So, if you've got a business to run or you want to move up the career ladder, here's some advice for how to shine onstage.
Follow the Experts
If you're new to public speaking, watch some of the pros at work. I learned from author of Good to Great Jim Collins that using a soft voice can be more effective than being loud - it draws people into the story. Simon Sinek makes eye contact with individual members of the audience to ensure he's engaging on a personal level. Don't expect to be perfect right away, but use the experts as a learning resource to help improve your own skills.
Stress is (Actually) Best
Even Richard Branson struggles with public speaking - but he puts himself out there anyway. The reality is that almost everyone gets a little sweaty and jittery before stepping onstage, but look at it as a good thing: performance peaks under moderate stress levels by activating your body and keeping you alert. So instead of letting your nerves get you down, embrace them - it's your body's way of pushing you to do your best.
Embrace Your Style
People connect when they sense they're getting the real deal. President Barack Obama occasionally peppers his speeches with impromptu musical interludes; Steve Jobs used to throw out "cools" and "awesomes" when he got jazzed about something; Shark Tank star Kevin O'Leary is unapologetically rude. Each of these speakers is wildly different from the next, but the reason they're memorable (and successful) is because they're authentic.
Share Your Softer Side
At a talk in Vancouver last spring, I gave one of my best-received presentations after sharing lessons I learned from my first, failed marriage. Being vulnerable allowed the audience to connect with me. Finding common ground with your listeners is key to any good speech - we're all fighting battles, big and small, and sharing yours is a way to engage with your audience in a meaningful way.
Seek (and Accept) Feedback
This part might hurt, but seeking out honest, constructive criticism is the fastest way to improve any skill - including public speaking. Recently, my staff told me they were distracted when I referred to my note cards onstage. By ditching them, I could focus more on sharing my story and connecting with my audience.
Rinse and Repeat
Finally, the real key to conquering your fear of public speaking is to practice. If you put yourself in the spotlight enough, it will start to feel normal. So speak up, and speak often.
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