Overcoming your fear of public speaking. Seems like an impossible feat right? Most of us have experienced it. You have likely experienced it yourself too. Hundreds of eyes staring at you as you come up on stage to speak. Beads of sweat trickling down your forehead as your heart palpitates uncontrollably. The pressure becomes overwhelming and you freeze, unable to utter a single word.
When it comes to public speaking, it’s important to effectively get your message across. But stage fright can get in the way of your performance no matter how much practice you put in to make a great public speech.
This type of stage fright is also known as glossophobia or speech anxiety which is the fear of speaking before an audience.
Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before the anticipated activity. This occurs when you think of the negative consequences, causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline as a result. At this point in the process, we all start having cold sweat, tense muscles or breathlessness – all the common signs of stage fright.
According to experts, roughly 80% of people get increasingly nervous and lose sleep before a big public speaking moment. Some experts even suggest that the fear of public speaking rivals death. Yet, most people will be put in a situation where they are expected to speak in front of a crowd.
The fear of public speaking is very real. These moments can sometimes be career-defining which then leads to the question: How do the pros make public speaking look easy?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:
1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically
“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” ~ Bob Proctor
When you feel nervous and have not prepared enough for it, chances are, your audience will know. It is important to prep your body and mind before the big show so that you come up on stage as confident, collected and ready as possible.
Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to your brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, help calm the mind. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:
a) Warming up
If you are nervous, your body will feel the same way. You may find that your body is tense, breaking in cold sweat or you may feel stiff and your muscles are tight. The audience will notice you are nervous.
So do a couple of stretches to loosen your tense muscles and relax your body. According to experts, it’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps increase the functional potential of the body. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and movement of an individual.
Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:
Neck and Shoulder Rolls
This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure. Rolls help focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions. Without this, it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.
Touch your toes while keeping your knees straight and legs together help loosen nearly all of your upper body muscles and gets your blood circulation flowing. This can instantly help to make you feel more comfortable and relaxed.
When you are nervous, do you tend to breathe faster and take shorter breaths? Nervousness is always accompanied by these very symptoms. If not addressed, you may end up mumbling and stuttering your way throughout the speech.
To ensure that does not happen, take slow, deep breaths. A study has shown that slow breathing is extremely helpful for individuals with high levels of anxiety. Reason being, it helps lower your heart rate, making you focus on your breathing rather than on your anxiety and insecurities.
Here is an example of a breathing exercise you can try:
- Stand up, shoulders back and hands on your stomach. Let your stomach muscles relax.
- Breathe in through your nose, filling up your abdomen (you should feel and see it expand), then your ribs and all the way up to your chin.
- Hold this breath and count to 10.
- Now exhale slowly. As you exhale, keep your ribs expanded and tighten your abdomen. The lower abdominal muscles should come in first as though you were rolling up a tube of toothpaste.
While you are breathing, check your shoulders and stomach. Your shoulders should not be going up and your stomach should be going out.
b) Stay Hydrated
Ever felt dehydrated seconds before speaking only to find your voice sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? It is essential we stay hydrated before a speech because it prevents your voice from sounding bad and prevents you from being tongue-tied.
This is because stage fright will likely make your body pumped with adrenaline, causing the mouth to dry out. This can lead to the feeling of being tongue-tied.
A sip of water is recommended. Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. Not only can they dry out your mouth and make it harder to talk smoothly, it’ll also amplify your anxiety.
With that said however, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.
According to experts, meditation is a powerful tool to calm the mind.
ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend as well as author of a book titled, 10% Happier recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel calmer.
This is because meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular meditation method. According to experts, this meditation helps lessen anxiety as it makes an individual stop thinking of unnecessary and negative thoughts.
The practice involves focusing on your breathing while bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.
2. Focus on your goal
One thing people with stage fright have in common is focusing too much on themselves. Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? DoI look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m saying?
Too often, most people tend to lose themselves in their self-consciousness and vulnerability. Instead of that, try shifting your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.
Rather than keeping their eye on the prize —also known as the audience’s receptivity to their message— they look back at themselves, wondering how they’re doing. At the moment when they need to aim their attentiveness most precisely, they miss the mark by a mile. If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does: like building trust with your audience. This brings us to our next point.
3. Convert negativity to positivity
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one – Hans Selye”
There are two sides constantly battling inside of us. One is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?
According to ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend as well as the author of the book titled, 10% Happier, most of us can’t help but have negative thoughts about ourselves. It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we get a chance to prove ourselves.
Also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy, this is a belief that comes true because we’re acting as if it already is. So if you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.
Knowing this, try to take advantage of this self-fulfilling prophecy by thinking of your strengths and positive thoughts about yourself. Start by saying: I’ll ace this speech and I can do it! Make use of this adrenaline rush into a positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.
Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it.
4. Understand Your Content.
Knowing your content at your fingertips helps to reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. So one way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech. However, you don’t want to memorize your script word by word. It can work against you should you forget your content.
No amount of reading or memorising will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts – Bob Proctor”
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from the slides. Or, they memorise their script word-for-word without understanding the content and it’s definitely a way to stress themselves out.
According to experts, understanding the content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others. This makes it easier to ‘memorise’ what you want to say because you know what you are talking about. This will then allow you to talk more comfortably as there is one less thing to worry about.
One way to understand is to memorise the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. This helps you speak more naturally and allow your personality to shine through.
Speaking exactly from a memorised script will only make you sound rigid and monotonous – a sure fire way to lose the audience’s interest.
Still, if you need to have a reference just in case you forget your speech, it’s okay to have prompts in your presentation slides or cue cards.
5. Practice Makes Perfect!
Like most people, many of us are not naturally talented when it comes to public speaking. Rarely is there an individual who can walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.
Yet, many people seem to mistake that it is possible to do so. Great speakers like John F. Kennedy will spend months preparing his speech beforehand so why shouldn’t you?
Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice. Whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
6. Mouth Your Words When Rehearsing
Another method that most speakers use to embed their presentations into their conscience is to ‘mouth’ the words as they rehearse.
Not only do they begin to instinctively memorise your presentation each time you practice, it also aids in muscle memory when you need to deliver the speech on stage naturally.
7. Be Authentic
It’s important to know that there’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience. In fact, public speaking anxiety is incredibly common, so you are not alone.
Learning to be yourself in front of others is an important key factor to overcoming fear of public speaking. Although this seems like a simple method, it is easier said than done. Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self.
If you can drop the pretense of being someone of how you think you should act or speak, you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You’ll realise that the tension and anxiety dissolves. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous.
This makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations like getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing a technical difficulty.
Your listeners will also be engaged as they prefer someone who is authentic and able to connect with them.
To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic you’re passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting
Public speaking does not need to be different. Now, imagine speaking to one audience member at a time when you’re up on stage. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.
With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others, may take a little time and some experience depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others but once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you thought.
Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:
8. Fake It Till You Make It
The truth is everyone gets nervous, even seasoned speakers. As Mark Twain put it nicely, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
These liars “fake” their confidence despite their insecuritties and reservations about themselves till they succeed. This can be through achieving the desired outcome, overcoming a fear or selling an idea successfully.
When you fake confidence, you naturally create a positive impression of what your capabilities are instantly. This makes you more confident than you actually are.
Embracing that you’ll always get those butterflies in your stomach leading up to your presentation is half the battle won. Learn to harness that flush of adrenaline and energy to engage with your audience early on.
Last but not least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try to see it as a good takeaway to further improve yourself as a speaker.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up After a Presentation
We’re the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back. You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.
Improve Your Next Speech
As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during your speech. Then, watch the video afterwards and observe what you can do to improve next time.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:
- How did I do?
- Are there any areas for improvement?
- Was I tense or stressed? Why?
- Did I forger or stumble on my words? Why?
- Did I say “um” too often?
- How was the flow of the speech?
Write everything you observed and keep practicing and improving. In time, all of your fears of public speaking? It’ll vanish into thin air.
Summing it up
And there you have it, these are the five stepping stones that’ll help you overcome your stage fright and ace your public speaking.
Make full use of the opportunity and apply these tips:
- Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically
- Know and Focus On What You Want Out of the Presentation
- Understand and Rehearse for the Speech
- Practice The Art of Faking Your Confidence or Embrace being You
- Learn from the Outcome and Get Feedback to Improve
Leave a comment below if it worked for you!