How To Take Control Of Your Fear of Public Speaking (Without Any “Woo Woo” Remedies)
by Andrea Pacini —
It’s almost pointless asking if you feel nervous before a presentation. It would be strange if you didn’t. The vast majority of people are afraid of public speaking. It’s perfectly normal to have a fear of public speaking, also known by its technical name of glossophobia.
Research shows that more than 75 percent of the population has some level of public speaking anxiety. So you’re in good company.
I’m a presentation coach and I feel nervous all the time before a presentation. There’s a brilliant quote attributed to Mark Twain. He is believed to have said, “There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars.”
It’s common to feel nervous before speaking in public, even among accomplished presenters.
This can happen in many different contexts, not just when delivering a formal presentation to a large audience.
It can be equally nerve-racking to address a few colleagues in a meeting or to wait your turn to introduce yourself at a networking event. Even children waiting to be called upon by the teacher to answer a question can find it intimidating.
That feeling of anxiety can strike any time we have to speak in front of others.
How to control your nerves
Here are some practical tips to help you control and minimise your nerves:
- Drink water beforehand to avoid a dry mouth.
- Get your body moving before your presentation. It’s good to get out for a walk. Anxiety causes a lot of excess energy to flow through your body and you want to get that energy out. Movement is a great way to do so.
- Take a few deep breaths from your belly (not your chest). Breathe in through your nose for four seconds (while pushing your belly out); breathe out through your mouth for six seconds (while pushing your belly back in). It works better if you can make the breaths out longer than the breaths in. Chest breathing is what we do when we panic or when we’re doing sport. If you want to relax you need to learn to breathe from your belly.
- Develop a quick warm-up routine which you can repeat before any important presentation. Try and put together a combination of breathing, muscle relaxation and vocal exercises. There’s plenty of information available online about warm-up exercises. I worked with Toby Trimble, the MD and Founder of Trimble Productions. His company develops world-class educational programmes for thought-leaders in the veterinary industry. Before he presented at an important event we did some warm-ups together. Toby said that he felt far more relaxed and confident in his ability to be a great presenter, not just a good one.
- Interact with your audience right from the start. Ask them a question or invite them to work on a quick exercise. You could ask them to reflect on an idea and share their answer with the person sitting next to them. This moves the attention away from you and buys you some more time to relax during those first few minutes. It also means that you create an enjoyable experience from the start by making a good connection with your audience.
The importance of rehearsal
The above tips will all help to calm your nerves before a presentation. However, another highly effective way to reduce anxiety is to ensure you’re properly rehearsed. I’ve looked at the importance of rehearsal in a previous article.
The best way to control your nerves is to know what you’re talking about.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the more you rehearse the more spontaneous you’ll appear. And the more spontaneous you’ll appear, the more confident you’ll be.
I recommend that everyone rehearses their presentation, replicating the situation you’ll face as closely as possible, at least three times.
Facing your public speaking fears
Alexandra Galviz has been named LinkedIn Top Voice UK twice and has become an official LinkedIn Learning Instructor. She’s best known for blogging under the hashtag #AuthenticAlex where she smashes one stigma at a time.
Alex is also the co-creator of #LinkedInLocal, the biggest hashtag campaign on LinkedIn that created an offline community and scaled it in over 100 countries and 1,000 cities.
When I interviewed Alex for the Ideas on Stage podcast she told me that she was terrified of speaking in public at the start of her career. It was one aspect of her job which she hated the most.
At some point she was offered two jobs from two different companies. One role didn’t involve public speaking but the other did. What did she do? She deliberately chose the one that required lots of public speaking so she would have to face her worst fears.
It’s an important lesson. The worst thing you can do is shy away from public speaking just because you get nervous. It’s far better to keep presenting despite the inevitable anxiety. That way you’ll learn to control and minimise the fear and become increasingly comfortable with it.
If you make the decision to keep presenting despite the nerves, you’ll get to a point where you can control your nerves much more easily.
Don’t be too hard on yourself along the way. There will be ups and downs. Guy Kawasaki, one of Apple’s early employees and a legendary marketeer, says it took him twenty years to get comfortable with public speaking. Now he is world-renowned as a great public speaker.
Most people get nervous before public speaking. It’s a natural response to standing in front of lots of eyes staring back at us.
There are lots of helpful strategies to manage your nerves. Develop a regular warm-up routine which will help you relax. Interact with the audience immediately to take the spotlight away from you.
Accept that the nerves may never go away completely. The worst thing you can do is avoid public speaking. Put yourself forward for public speaking opportunities because it will get easier the more you do it—and your career and business will benefit.
If this article has helped you please get in touch to let me know. If you feel any colleagues or friends might also benefit from reading it, feel free to share it.
If you want to improve your presentation skills further try out the Confident Presenter Scorecard.
After answering a series of simple yes/no questions you’ll get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of our best-selling book Business Presentation Revolution.
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