Did you ever have to give an oral report in school? Maybe you had a small speaking part in a play. What do you remember about the experience? For some of us, standing on stage before an audience is thrilling. For others, just thinking about it is enough to trigger an accelerated heartbeat and sweaty palms.
Public speaking is scary. That’s true for nearly everyone. Over three-quarters of adults have some degree of glossophobia or fear of public speaking. The most successful stage actors and speakers don’t eliminate nerves. They manage them. I’ve been speaking publicly for years and I can tell you those pre-show jitters never disappear. There are performers who vomit before every performance. Stage fright was so overwhelming for Fiona Apple and Barbra Streisand that they quit doing live shows and stepped away from the stage for years. Don’t let anxiety derail your advancement. LinkedIn reports fear of public speaking “inhibits promotion to management by 15%,” and “cuts wages by 10%.” Not only do successful public speakers earn more and land more promotions but discussing a topic before an audience can deepen their own understanding of the subject. That’s why teachers “tortured” us with oral reports. So here’s how to improve public speaking anxiety.
Just as actors rehearse, take the time to get comfortable with the material. I’m not suggesting you memorize every line. That makes it too easy to freeze up if you forget a word or phrase. Instead, go over the speech and deliver it out loud. Video yourself and then review it. Most of us are shocked by how different our voice sounds or how we look on screen. Still, seeing your nervous tics or exaggerated expressions will help you modify them. Delivering the speech to a trusted loved one can also help.
Visualization is vital. Athletes visualize. So do entrepreneurs. In your head, see yourself speaking. Hear the words, picture the audience’s reaction. Imagine the entire presentation from introduction to conclusion. Stay focused. If your mind wanders or negative thoughts intrude, bring yourself back to the exercise. Seeing yourself deliver a successful, dynamic speech is how to improve public speaking anxiety. There are even guided meditations you can use.
Look Outward Not Inward
A great deal of pre-show jitters are about how we are perceived. We get nervous thinking others will dislike our presentation or think poorly of our delivery. Try thinking about the audience. They are there to be informed, even entertained. In fact, people actually pay more attention to new information rather than the presentation. Keep in mind that you aren’t on trial –– they want you to succeed. So focus on helping them by offering valuable insights –– and a nice break from their routine.
It’s a good idea to get in the habit of meditation and breathing properly well before the day of the event. Proper breathing is about more than “take a deep breath.” In fact, because a deep inhale can involve your body’s fight-or-flight response it can actually induce an anxiety attack. Too many deep breaths can make you hyperventilate. Instead, focus on your exhale as well as your inhale.
Fifteen or twenty minutes before you go on, do some simple breathing exercises. This can slow your heartbeat and respiratory functions which accelerate in times of stress. A good one to use is to inhale for a count of five, hold it for five and then exhale for five. Repeat. Of course you may discover other breathing exercises that serve you better. A brief visualization exercise before you go on is also helpful.
As you do more public speaking, you’ll become more comfortable with it. You may even start looking forward to giving a presentation!
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