How to manage the fear of public speaking
Are you scared of speaking in public? Hands sweating, voice trembling, nausea maybe, fear, even maybe panic at the idea of standing and talking to an audience?
Well, things can be done to reduce this. In this blog, I will tell you a few truths and give you a few tips to help.
1 – If you think people looking confident when speaking in public always are, then think again
You regularly see people speaking confidently, appearing as if it was just the most natural thing they could do. You think such people have just no fear of speaking, are not nervous about it.
Most of the time, it is not the case. All of us, to some degree, are nervous ahead of speaking in public. What makes the difference is how we manage it.
The nervousness, fear wll probably always be there and what matters is that you know how to control it so that you appear natural and confident when it matters.
To give you an exemple, I was recently at a workshop run by an actor and director. At some point, he told us the following story.
He was acting in a play with a very famous British actress and he told us that she had a bucket behind the stage and woud throw up every night before going on stage.
It does not prevent her to be one of the best.
2 – A bit of nervousness is good to have
It is normal to be nervous before an important presentation, talking at a meeting. Being nervous means taking it seriously; you are aware of what is at stake.
The problem is when it overcomes your performance and prevents you performing as well as you could.
On the other hand, having no fear, nervousness at all is not always a good sign. It is easy to become complacent, take the occasion too casually and at the end to really mess it up.
We all have seen a game between two teams where one was a much better team and the huge favourite but still lost because they did not take the game and the opponent seriously.
3 – It is not about you
I will bruise a few egos here but stop being a self-centered ego thinking of yourself. Of course you are not.
Why do you think things such as selfies are so popular?
Because almost everything now is about me. It is not WHERE you are that is important, it is where YOU are.
Stop that type of thinking, also when it comes to public speaking. What if I stutter, what if I forget my line… You know what, it doesn’t matter.
Who decides if your performance is good? Not you, it is your audience.
There are many advantages of focusing on your audience, before and during the talk rather than on yourself.
First, by focusing on your audience and their expectations, you are more likely to deliver somethig they like, to make a better presentation that people will remember for good reasons.
Second, focusing on others obviously move the focus away from you and your feelings.
It makes it easier to control your fear and nervousness when it is not about you.
So begin to think about them. Why do you think the British actress mentioned earlier performs well? Because once on stage, it is about the play, the public, not her.
4 – Prepare
Nothing is more important than making sure you are fully prepared. So research your subject thoroughly.
If you have been asked to talk, it is that people think you have the required knowledge. Make sure you do.
If you begin from scratch, preparing a presentation should take you at least four times as long as the presentation will be.
It is not just about researching the content of the presentation. Research your audience.
Remember that you will perform for them. Who are they? Why are they attending? What are their expectations?
5 – Prepare but don’t prepare a script
Trying to write and then learn by heart a full script of your presentation is a waste of time.
Remember when you were at school and you had to learn something and then repeat it word for word to the teacher and your fellow pupils.
What were your feelings?
Probably not positive ones. So what would be different now?
Trying to remember and regurgitate a text will put you under unnecessary pressure.
6 – Prepare for the questions too
You might prepare as well as you possibly can for a public presentation, if you don’t prepare for the questions, what was a great performance so far can turn sour and finish on a very poor note. Instead of repeating myself, I am pointing you to a previous post I wrote on this site.
7 – Repeat
Again there is no shortcut here. To gain confidence and feel less nervous and scared, you need to feel that it is under control. This will only be achieved by rehearsing until you are happy with and confident in your performance.
Rehearse on your own. Even if you have a graphical support such as a PowerPoint presentation, still rehearse your content wherever you are, as often as you can, under the shower, while you walk to get some lunch.
Rehearse with an audience, in conditions as close to the real occasion as you can. Choose people who will give you honest feedback, both good and bad, and who completely understand the purpose of your performance. Rehearse with them several times if necessary.
Finally keep a recording of your rehearsals, which means video some of them. Study the videos to see if you come across as you want to come across and if the message you communicate is the one you want to communicate.
8 – Anchoring
Anchoring is a technique from Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). It allows you to call a feeling on demand. Using this technique should allow you to feel exactly as you want during your performance.
First, list the feelings you want to experience. You probably want to be calm, relaxed, confident at least.
Second, think of times when you have experienced these feelings.
Third, choose an anchor for these feelings. It can be a single anchor on which you will anchor all the feelings or you can choose one anchor for each feeling.
The things to consider are that you have to be able to access an anchor anywhere, anytime and that it has to be discrete enough that you can use it without anybody noticing.
The most common anchors are small gestures, like joining two fingers together or exercising some pressure on a defined place on your body.
An anchor can also be a word you say or a small object you can always carry with you.
Last, the anchoring process can begin. Take each experience you listed in point two.
Relive as fully and completely as possible each of them. When you are fully in the experience, use your chosen anchor to anchor the feelings you are experiencing to it.
Release the anchor and step back into the present moment. Check that the anchor works. You may use several experiences of the same feeling to make the anchor stronger.
9 – Breathing exercises (they may help)
They are not a long term solution but they can help relieving immediate pressure. Stand upright, arms open to allow maximum movement of the chest and abdomen.
You can also sit if you have an appropriate seat near you. Focus on your breathing. Just breathe normally to begin with. Do not force it.
Then begin slowing down your breathing, particularly the outbreath. Make sure you breathe with your abdomen.
This will have the effect of slowing down your thoughts and your heart rate.
During the presentation itself it is all right to pause a few seconds and ensure you breathe property too.
With the tips given in this post you should go a long way towards diminishing your fears of speaking in public. If you find it is not enough, then ask the help of a coach.
All the best for your next public performance.