close-up of a microphone with large crowd background

The number one fear of most people, before death, is public speaking. Its symptoms can manifest themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. It doesn't matter if it's for a class or a business meeting, the very thought of having to speak in front of more than a couple of people can debilitate even the most confident person. Here are a few ways to conquer your fear of public speaking.

Practice makes perfect.
Whether it's in front of the mirror or in front of a friend or family member, practicing your material ahead of time is probably the most important step to combating a fear of public speaking. It allows you to work out any kinks prior to delivering your presentation in front of a live audience. If a sentence is clunky or awkward, or if your transitions are tenuous, you can fix it so that it flows correctly when you have to make the presentation. If you have visuals, you can make sure they are working and in proper order, and that they are being shown on the screen when you introduce the topic. If you're practicing in front of someone else, ask for their honest feedback so you know how you can improve when it's time for the real deal.

Break the ice.
Start with an anecdote or a joke, if appropriate. Use a relevant quote or statistic to pique your audience's interest. Launching right into your presentation or speech may leave your listeners cold, which is the last thing you want, especially if you are trying to persuade them. Let the audience get to know you, and they'll be more likely to respond positively to what you have to say.

Engage your audience.
If you feel uncomfortable simply lecturing to your listeners, try making your presentation a conversation instead of a monologue. Ask the audience questions or otherwise get them involved. Talk to them beforehand. If you can see the audience members as actual people and not judgmental listeners, you'll feel more at ease talking to them. It also helps to have a few familiar faces in the audience, because you can focus on them if you start to get nervous. Leave time for questions in case anything is unclear or needs further explanation.

Don't rely on visuals.
While it's nice to incorporate slides into your presentation, you don't want to be reading off the screen the entire time. Your slides should support your presentation, not constitute the entire thing. If you get too used to using your visuals as a crutch, you won't be prepared if you have to give a presentation without them. Practice with and without the slides so you're prepared in case something goes wrong or you're asked to clarify some of the information.

Fake it til you make it.
You may not be confident now, but your audience doesn't have to know that. Just giving the impression that you are cool, calm, and collected can do wonders for your state of mind. If you have to give yourself a pep talk before you present, do so. Find an affirmation you like and repeat it to yourself over and over until it sinks in. Do whatever is going to boost your confidence, even if it's just for the duration of your presentation. Do this as often as you need to until you feel comfortable enough to present without psyching yourself up first.

Visit the venue beforehand.
If you're giving the presentation in an unfamiliar location, try to visit it a couple of days before you have to be there. This allows you to get a feel for how many people will be there, if you'll need a microphone, the placement of the screen and any other logistics. If you can, practice while you're there, using everything you'll bring to the actual presentation. That way, you'll be familiar with the space and you'll be able to fine-tune your speech accordingly.