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You're standing behind the curtain, about to walk onto the stage and face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. With each step closer to the spotlight, your body begins to feel heavier. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heart rate has skyrocketed.
Don't worry, you're not the only one who suffers from glossophobia (also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Anxiety can strike before you even step onto the stage.
Your body's defense mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that is released when a lion chases you.
Here's a step-by-step procedure for overcoming your fear of public speaking:
1. Mentally and physically prepare yourself
Experts believe that we are hardwired to exhibit anxiety and recognize it in others. Your audience will notice if your body and mind are tense. As a result, it is critical to prepare yourself prior to the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected, and ready.
“Your outside world reflects your inner world. What happens on the inside is reflected on the outside.” – Mr. Bob Proctor
Light exercise before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to your brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can aid in the relaxation of the mind and nerves. When you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach, here are some helpful ways to calm your racing heart:
If you're nervous, chances are your body will be as well. Your body tenses, your muscles tense, or you break out in cold sweat. Your nervousness will be noticed by the audience.
If you notice this happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. Warming up before each speech is preferable because it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, but it improves muscle efficiency, reaction time, and movement.
Here are some exercises to help you loosen up before the show:
- Neck and shoulder rolls – These rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle, and thus help relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure. Stress and anxiety can cause us to become rigid in this area, making you feel agitated, especially when standing.
- Arm stretches – During a speech or presentation, we frequently use this part of our muscles through hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can help to reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up, and improve your range of body language.
- Waist twists are performed by placing your hands on your hips and rotating your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions, which is important because they can cause discomfort and pain, exacerbating any anxieties you may have.
- Keep hydrated.
- Have you ever felt thirsty seconds before speaking? And then coming on stage in front of an audience, sounding raspy and scratchy? This occurs because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to become dry.
- To avoid all of this, it is critical that we stay adequately hydrated prior to delivering a speech. A sip of water will suffice. However, drink in moderation so that you don't have to go to the bathroom all the time.
- Avoid sugary beverages and caffeine because they are diuretics and will make you thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety, making it difficult for you to speak clearly.
Meditation is well-known for its ability to calm the mind. ABC's Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America Weekend, and author of the book 10% Happier, suggests that meditation can help people feel significantly calmer and faster.
Meditation is similar to a mental workout. It gives you the focus and strength to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence, and strength.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular way to relax before taking the stage. The practice entails sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind's attention to the present without becoming preoccupied with the past or future – which may include floundering on stage.
Here's an excellent example of guided meditation prior to public speaking:
2. Concentrate on your goal
People who are afraid of public speaking have one thing in common: they focus too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.
Do I appear odd? What if I can't think of anything to say? Do I come across as stupid? Will people pay attention to me? Is anyone interested in what I'm saying?'
Instead of thinking in this way, focus on your one true purpose: providing something of value to your audience.
Determine the steps you want your audience to take after your presentation. Take note of their movements and expressions in order to tailor your speech to ensure that they have a good time and leave the room as better people.
If your own focus isn't what it should be when you're speaking, change it to something that is. This is also important for establishing trust during your presentation because the audience can clearly see that you are looking out for their best interests.
3. Transform negativity into positivity
Inside of us, there are two opposing forces at work: one of strength and courage, and the other of doubt and insecurities. Which one are you going to feed?
‘What if I screw up this speech?' What if I'm not sufficiently amusing? What if I don't know what to say?'
It's no surprise that many of us are apprehensive about giving a presentation. We only serve to bring ourselves down before we have a chance to prove ourselves. This is also referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we act as if it is already true. If you believe you are incompetent, it will eventually come to pass.
Positive mantras and affirmations, according to motivational coaches, tend to boost your confidence for the most important moments. Say to yourself, “I'm going to ace this speech, and I can do it!”
Use your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcomes rather than worrying about the negative “what ifs.”
Here's a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal encouraging her audience to turn stress into something positive while also providing coping strategies:
4. Recognize your content
Knowing you have your content at your fingertips reduces your anxiety because you have one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice your speech several times before the big day.
It is not, however, recommended that you memorize your script word for word. If you forget something, you may end up freezing. You also run the risk of sounding unnatural and unapproachable.
“No amount of reading or memorization will make you a successful person in life. It is the comprehension and application of wise thought that is important.” – Mr. Bob Proctor
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word for word without understanding their content, which is a sure way to stress themselves out.
Understanding the flow and content of your speech allows you to more easily convert ideas and concepts into your own words, which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides with text prompts is another simple hack for quickly recalling your flow when your mind goes blank.
Memorize the overarching concepts or ideas in your pitch to help you understand. It allows you to speak more naturally and express your personality. It's almost as if you're taking your audience on a journey with a few key stops along the way.
5. Perfect practice makes perfect
Many of us, like most people, are not naturally suited to public speaking. Rarely do people walk up to a large group of people and present flawlessly without any research or preparation.
In fact, some of the best presenters make it look easy on stage because they have spent countless hours behind the scenes perfecting their craft. Even great orators, such as the late John F. Kennedy, would spend months preparing their speeches.
Public speaking, like any other skill, necessitates practice – whether it's practicing your speech in front of a mirror or taking notes. As they say, practice makes perfect!
6. Be genuine
There's nothing wrong with being nervous before giving a speech in front of an audience.
Many people are afraid of public speaking because they are afraid that others will judge them for revealing their true, vulnerable selves. However, as a speaker, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable.
Drop the pretense of trying to act or speak like someone else, and you'll discover that the risk is worth it. You become more genuine, flexible, and spontaneous, making it easier to deal with unexpected situations – whether it's tough questions from the audience or an unexpected technical difficulty.
It is simple to determine your natural speaking style. Simply choose a topic or issue that you are passionate about and discuss it as you would with a close family member or friend. It's like having a personal one-on-one conversation with someone. On stage, a great way to do this is to choose a random audience member (with a hopefully calm face) and speak to only one person at a time during your speech. You'll discover that connecting with one person at a time is easier than connecting with an entire room.
That being said, depending on how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others, it may take some time and practice to be comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others. However, once you've accepted it, stage fright won't be as frightening as you first thought.
Presenters such as Barack Obama are excellent examples of genuine and passionate speakers:
7. Post-discourse evaluation
Last but not least, if you've done public speaking and have been scarred by a bad experience, try viewing it as a learning experience to help you improve as a speaker.
Don't berate yourself after delivering a presentation.
We are the most critical of ourselves, which is a good thing. But, once you've finished your speech or presentation, give yourself some credit and a pat on the back.
You finished what you set out to do and did not give up. You did not give in to your fears and insecurities. Take more pride in your work and have faith in yourself.
8. Enhance your next speech
As previously stated, practice makes perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking abilities, have someone film you while you deliver a speech or presentation. Following that, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself the next time.
Following each speech, consider the following questions:
- How did I fare?
- Is there anything you could do better?
- Is it possible that I sounded or appeared stressed?
- Is it possible that I stumbled over my words? Why?
- Was I using the word “um” too frequently?
- How did you find the flow of the speech?
Keep a record of everything you notice and continue to practice and improve. With practice, you'll be able to overcome your fear of public speaking and appear more confident when it matters.
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