Overcoming Anxiety About Public Speaking Help
Introduction to Overcoming Anxiety About Public Speaking
There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1. The nervous, and 2. Liars.
—Mark Twain, 1835–1910
Everyone gets nervous before speaking publicly. The secret is not to avoid stage fright, but to use it to your advantage.
You're sitting in the front row of a large auditorium that is crowded with people. A woman is on stage introducing the keynote speaker: you! Your stomach is knotting up; your throat is scratchy; you feel sweat trickling down your spine, yet you are inexplicably chilly. What should you conclude from these strange symptoms?
You should conclude that you are normal. Whether you realize it or not, nearly everyone gets nervous before speaking in public. I've been getting up in front of audiences in many different settings for more than 30 years, and I still feel my heart rate increase as the moment draws close. It's such a common phenomenon that it even has a name: stage fright.
Indeed, we can learn a lot about stage fright from those who know it best, professional actors who literally get on stage night after night before a large audience. A professional actor will be quick to tell you that stage fright is a good thing, not a bad thing. It indicates that you want to do well, and that you're taking the performance seriously. A lack of stage fright frequently leads to mediocrity, and actors learn to tap into their nervous energy to enhance their performance. You can, too!
The Fear of Fear Itself
The first and most important skill in overcoming stage fright is to recognize that it is a normal sensation. Even professional public speakers get nervous before standing in front of an audience. When you feel those butterflies warming up in your stomach, remind yourself that it is just part of the process of giving a speech.
What often happens to novice speakers, however, is that they convince themselves that they are nervous for good reason: They're going to fail. That sort of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you remind yourself that everyone gets nervous before speaking, you will actually calm down a bit and your mental focus will shift from your fears to your speech.
When you listen to a skillful speaker, recognize that he or she was nervous before getting to the podium. If others can overcome their fears and perform well, so can you. Stage fright is either too much attention on self or even on audience. In effective public speaking, the message must eventually transcend the medium.
Techniques for Managing Pubic Speaking Anxiety
Pretend to Be Confident
A cardinal rule when speaking publicly is not to tell the audience that you're nervous. You might think that everyone can plainly see your shaking hands or beads of sweat on your brow, but the truth is that they can't. Once again, recall the polished speakers to whom you've listened and ask yourself whether they appeared nervous. They didn't, of course—yet chances are, they were.
Appearing confident sends the audience the message that you are prepared and you know your material well. This makes them confident that you have something worthwhile to say to them, and their confidence in you will actually bolster your confidence in yourself. The opposite, unfortunately, is also true: If you tell the audience that you're nervous, they lose confidence in your speech, which will reinforce your own nervousness.
On the other hand, if you are absolutely certain that you cannot hide the terror on your face or in your body mannerisms, you might want to consider, as a last resort, reverting back to the "we're all human" school of thought and make a joke of it. Get the audience to laugh, briefly commiserate, and then once the ice is broken, focus, focus, focus on the message you are hoping to convey.
Here are some things you can do to project an air of confidence:
- Stand up straight. We have covered the importance of this already, but here is another side to good posture. If you stand tall, your audience will interpret that as confidence, and it will make you feel more confident as well.
- Focus and relax beforehand. Do stretches, breathing exercises, and some kind of meditation or mind-centering on a regular basis to be better prepared.
- Walk briskly to the podium. Don't run, just walk with an air of eagerness. You want to communicate the notion that you are eager to start sharing your thoughts with the audience—not that you're eager to get the ordeal over with.
- Greet your audience with a smile. This conveys a friendly confidence to your audience, while it actually buys you a few precious moments to catch your breath and adjust your thoughts to your speech. In many cases, the audience will also respond verbally to your greeting, saying "good morning" back! That's another bonus to help you calm your fears.
- Do not apologize. As already stated, the audience is not aware of your stage fright, so don't spoil the illusion by telling them about it unless you feel it is absolutely necessary.
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