At my first professional speaking gig (years ago), I was so preoccupied with my tech set-up, I had not noticed that the room had slowly filled to capacity. Finishing my final tweaks, I lifted my head just in time to start the presentation and froze. Staring back at me were approximately one hundred pairs of foreign eyeballs. My brain immediately petrified, my enthusiasm congealed, my mouth filled with marbles, and the room took on a nice, vertiginous glow.
Between me and the audience lay a gulf of silent expectation (on their part) and profound apprehension (on mine).
Determined to never let that happen again, I decided to stop speaking to strangers. Whether speaking to a room of five or one hundred, one infallible way I've overcome (at least in part) my fear of speaking is to become acquainted with the audience. I stand at the entrance to the room and try and shake every hand as they enter. If a distraction prevents me from getting to the front of the room in time, I walk around and shake hands with those who are already seated, acting as a somewhat surreptitious host to my special guests. (I prefer this status. Sitting on a platform, posing an aloof posture always feels a bit faux-regal and some speakers look as though they are about to address subjects instead of friends and colleagues).
Greeting attendees produces a palliative effect on my nerves. The reception forces me to exchange smiles and the smiles (oddly enough) chase away the butterflies. With every handshake, I grow in confidence, rediscover my poise, reclaim my diction, and most importantly, my tongue and my brain shed fear's glacial grip.
I still ramble like Rainman slightly when I talk but at least now I do so in front of a few friends.