There is that oft-mentioned survey that states that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. I think the root of the fear is that of massive embarressment–a major blow to an ego, indeed. Fear of tripping, of doing something stupid or saying something stupid, or being booed or critisized, and of looking like an idiot in general. The way that I got over it was simply remembering that your audience wants you to do well. They do not wish to be bored. Hell, they’re supporting you and hoping that you have an excellent presentation or speech. Chances are good that most people in the audience will also recognize how hard it is to speak in front of people. Just pretend that you are speaking in front of your friends.
In fact, the audience is simply composed of friends you haven’t made yet. Before a presentation, strike up a conversation with some member of the audience. While the hall or room is being filled, start talking with audience members, and turn at least some of the front row members from a faceless mass to people whose names you know. The simplest opening is the best, "Hi there, how’re you doing?" or "Hi, my name is <blank>. I’m speaking tonight, is there anything you’d would like to hear?" or "Are there any issues you’d like to see talked about." This also gives you the benefit of finding out what is actually interesting or important to the audience and you can change your speech accordingly.
All of this will help you gain confidence and the audience will be more moved by your confidence than by your words.
Another thing to remember is that no matter what bad thing happens, it will not affect you nearly as much as you think. When you’re on stage and something happens that might make you look foolish, you don’t notice it at all. And it is best if you ignore it and continue with your presentation, the audience will be a lot more sympathetic towards someone who rebounded. I’ve had all sorts of blunders happen to me and it has never worked against me. Sometimes it has even worked for me. From tripping on the steps, I was able to get a laugh out of my audience and they laughed more readily at my other icebreaking jokes. I was able to get the audience back.
I’ve had all sorts of things happen to me. Tripping (like I mentioned), to being unable to get my equipment (projector, etc) working properly, to dropping my notes, to losing my place, to visibly sweating (it was a bad shirt to wear and I looked DRENCHED) and never can I say it has worked against me. To recap: you only THINK that something bad will happen. More often, nothing does and if it does, it is not nearly as bad as you thought it would be.
Don’t try to hide from your audience, make eye contact with them. Eye contact shows an audience that you’re talking to them, and they will warm to you a lot more. Think of the best comedians, performers and orators, most of them will either have large eyes or will make their eyes seem bigger as they make eye contact with the audience. This helps them connect with an audience and makes it seem as if they are speaking to each one of them individually. So, don’t forget eye contact.
A lot of your confidence can come from knowing your stuff. And if you don’t, believing you do. So, do practice. It irons out the way you will present your ideas and how to best say something. Before you go up on stage, tell yourself that you know your stuff.
I won’t tell you to relax, because I know how hard it is the relax before a presentation. I am usually excited and a little strung up before a presentation. The one thing you shouldn’t do, is worry. Remember that you can usually walk away from this. You’ll feel more comfortable knowing that you made this choice and you can (usually) back out.
As with defeating any other fear, you should attack it. Remember: bravery isn’t the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. Anyone can be a good orator. Just find opportunities to present or speak in front of people. You will gain confidence in your own abilities as an orator and soon will be very comfortable in front of an audience.