Sweaty brow, racing heart beat, tremoring hands, cold clammy skin — it’s time for that big speech, and all you can see is what seems like thousands of piercing eyes in a crowd of maybe twenty people. Public speaking consistently ranks as a top fear for most people when asked about things that give them the heebie-jeebies.
The good news is that public speaking anxiety is a completely normal physiological response. What isn’t normal is when you let this fear take you away from becoming the amazing professional that you are destined to be. All CEOs and professionals in their field are expected to have some level of comfort giving speeches—yet sadly, lots of experienced people haven’t taken the time to face the fear head on. Growth doesn’t take place in your comfort zone, and you won’t win a game by staying on the sidelines.
I recently finished up an assignment as a facilitator in the classroom which was both an awesome and rewarding experience. Being a facilitator forced me to face my public speaking anxieties head on. The list below are things that I have found to be effective not only in calming the nerves, but also helpful in sharpening your public speaking abilities.
“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” – Mark Twain
10 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking
1. Stop trying to get rid of the fear – The fear and anxiety you are experiencing is the fight or flight response. It is a completely normal physiological response your body is giving off due to a perceived threat. Thousands of years of evolution have programmed us to be afraid of tigers and other scary things that could kill us. The threat of tigers and other predators is no longer a real concern, but your body doesn’t know that. The threat is now in the form of dozens of gazing eyes from audience members who you think are somehow ready to pounce. The good news is they usually don’t pounce from my experience. Stop trying to rid yourself of fear, instead you are going to embrace the fear and refocus it. In other words, let go of outcome.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing – This is a breathing technique that involves filling the lower portion of the belly up with air and then pushing the air out through your mouth. It helps open up the chest when your body wants to close it up due to fear. Repeat these breaths as many times as seems necessary. They feel good. Do them.
3. Do some light exercise – Find a place where you can comfortably do push-ups, body squats, or jumping jacks. Get the blood flowing in your body. This has the effect of tricking your body that you have already experienced the effects that anxiety has on your body before you have actually taken the stage.
4. Visualize giving the best speech of your life – Start with the end in mind. See yourself giving an amazing talk and literally feel the experience in your body. How are people reacting? How are the words flowing from your mouth. Where the mind goes, the body follows.
5. Positive Self-Talk – Ok, prepare yourself for some potential weird stares from strangers. Go to the bathroom (private space is best) or anyplace with a mirror, and look yourself dead in the eyes and tell yourself with emotion, “I am the best.” Tell yourself with emotion that you are going to give “the best damn speech ever.” This works best if you infuse it with both emotion and movement. The subconscious mind picks up everything you say whether you believe what you are saying or not most of the time. Get yourself psyched up, it’s game time!
6. Stop and Stare – As soon as you walk up on that stage, you are going to take a moment and pause for a couple of seconds. Keep your chin and chest high, and wait for the room to quiet down. You are a confident and well-prepared professional speaker, and this is what confident and well-prepared people do.
7. Find Allies – Getting past the first thirty seconds of public speaking is the hardest part to get through for most people. You might feel like there are hundreds of stares being cast your way. Find the people who are embracing your message and make eye contact with them. Your message won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay. Find those who understand, and connect with them.
8. Know your audience – Before the talk begins, go around the room and meet the people in the audience. If possible, try to build a quick rapport with them. It also helps to know your audience from a demographic perspective. If you want to open a door, it’s helpful to know if the lock requires a combination or a key.
9. Practice, Practice, Practice! – This cannot be stressed enough. Practice like you play. This works best if you can have trusted professionals watch you practice and then give you feedback. Take the feedback an act upon it. Also, practice in the room where you will be speaking in, if possible, and become familiar with the surroundings. If you fail to prepare, then you are preparing to fail.
10. Realize that your talk is a gift – Your speech or talk is a gift. You are giving the audience information that hopefully changes them or inspires in some way. It has nothing to do with receiving, and everything to do with giving. You are not looking for validation or reassurance, you are looking to communicate and connect. Kill your ego. Give your gift.
Don’t let the fear of public speaking keep you from being your best. If you are afraid, just know that this means you should be actively embracing the fear and taking steps to interact with it. Things don’t get easier, we simply get better. Go Crush it!