If you’re afraid of public speaking, you’re not alone. In fact, one study found that more people were afraid of public speaking than of dying! Many people suffer from so much stress while giving a presentation that their heart race, their hands sweat, their knees shake, and their mouths feel dry. What’s more, they may speak too fast or even forget what they wanted to say. Yet these physical stress responses can be overcome by identifying the causes of the fear and developing ways to overcome them.
Calming your inner critic
Sometimes, in our desire to excel and give of our best, we end up becoming our own worst critic. Instead of taking strength from the many positive experiences of our lives, we remember and exaggerate the effect of our mistakes. We brood over them, worry, and avoid future situations in which we may make the same errors. We allow our inner critic to destroy our confidence, affect our performance, or prevent us from reaching our potential. The problem in thinking this way is that we start to shut down our personal and professional horizons, instead of expanding them.
Making realistic improvements
At best, our fears challenge us. At worst, they immobilize us. This is especially true for those who have a phobia of public speaking. So,take tiny steps and keep your expectations realistic. Understand that you may continue to feel nervous, but not overly scared. More important, you will slowly start to look calm and confident, even if you don’t feel that way yet. As you prepare and plan, you will feel more in control of various elements of your presentation. At the beginning, you are unlikely to feel confident or to enjoy the experience. This happens only after you have accumulated many successful experiences. Nevertheless, you can learn how to give the impression that you are confident and happy to be there. Each positive performance will boost your self-esteem and motivate you to improve further. Finally, do not aim for perfection; aim for improvement. That is the way all of us grow and expand.
Changing your focus
As you progress in your career, and give more presentations, you will find that your focus begins to change from yourself to your audience. This changed attitude is an indication that you are no longer limited by the fear. A variety of strategies can help you to calm yourself and reach this stage.
Most people feel nervous when they give a presentation. The key is to control the negative manifestations of your nervousness and to channel the extra energy flow. Remember, many people feel nervous but not everyone shows their nervousness. And that’s what matters.
Implementing useful strategies
Once you identify the ways you express your nervousness, you can use the following techniques to steady your wobbly knees and calm your racing heartbeat:
- Mental Strategies
- Psychological Controls
- Physical Techniques
The best approach is to experiment with a combination of techniques and see what works best for you. It doesn’t matter what helps your friend or colleague. We are all different and require unique methods to make us feel calm, cool, and in control. Whatever happens, don’t give up. Know that everyone has passed through the fear and everyone can come out of it. If the fear persists, it may be because you gave up too soon; delivering one or two more presentations might have been all that was required to break away from the fear for life.
One of the best ways to overcome fear is to be adequately prepared. Nervousness is often produced by fear of the unknown. If you are familiar with your presentation material, your anxiety about speaking will be reduced. If you have ever given the same presentation more than once, you will have experienced this already.
Take the time to plan your presentation well. Use an organization template to make sure the information flows logically. Make sure you emphasize and repeat the key points you want people to remember. Don’t give in to the temptation to include too much information. People can only absorb so much knowledge at one stretch in an auditory manner.
Study the guidelines about designing effective visuals. Most people include too much information on their slides. Write only the most basic information on the slide itself so you can play a meaningful role in fleshing out the information and argument. If there are additional details you want to share, include them in a handout.
Then, after you’ve chosen the information and created your visuals, rehearse as often as necessary to get a feel for the flow of events. Identify how you will move smoothly from one point or section to the next. Draw up a plan and rehearse till you feel like you could deliver the presentation in your sleep. The repetition will also help you identify any bugs in your talk before the real event. If you always get stuck on particular word, for example, drop that word or expression and choose another you’re more comfortable with.
In short, the more you sweat while preparing the presentation, the less you will sweat while actually delivering it!
Conduct a Dialogue
Standing before a group of people to present your ideas often creates the feeling that you are delivering a monologue. However, any presentation, regardless of how formal, is a dialogue because you are constantly receiving visual feedback from the audience. You can reinforce the conversational aspect of presentations in your mind by using the following techniques:
- Interact with audience members before the presentation. Mingle with the crowd and introduce yourself.That way, they won’t be strangers anymore.
- Maintain eye contact during the presentation. Begin by establishing eye contact with a friendly face. As you feel more comfortable, focus on each person in small groups.
- Ask questions, so as to involve the audience whenever possible.
Identify your fears
One helpful step toward conquering your fear is to identify what it is you are afraid of. Some commonly expressed fears are:
- I might make a fool of myself.
- I might forget what I am going to say.
- I might begin to stutter or say the wrong thing.
- People may laugh at me.
Once you’ve identified what it is you are afraid of, you can determine whether the fear is legitimate. To analyze your fears, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this a rational fear?
- If this is a rational fear, what is the worst that could happen?
- So what?
Send positive messages
In life, you generally get what you expect. Learn to handle your inner critic and tell him or her that you can and will change. Look into the mirror and give yourself positive affirmations to offset the negative self-talk and to make a breakthrough. Instead of telling yourself that you’re terrible at giving presentations, for example, give yourself the positive message that you have the required skills to do a good job. Instead of saying you might forget what to say, tell yourself that you have reviewed and rehearsed so often that you could deliver the presentation well in your sleep!
Use visualization techniques
Visualization is kind of mental rehearsal. It is a psychological process in which you prepare yourself to produce a positive result by imagining a future event in your mind. It doesn’t take much time, and enables you to practice mentally for your presentation. If you visualize yourself giving a successful, confident presentation, you are more likely to do so. Never visualize yourself making mistakes, or you may subconsciously program yourself to do so. Expect a positive outcome as most winning personalities do. Be confidently optimistic in your own abilities and expect a better tomorrow.
Meet your audience
If possible, walk around, introduce yourself and greet members of your audience before the presentation begins. In this way, you will be speaking to fewer strangers and are more likely to get a positive nod from the individuals you have already met.
Do your best
To minimize your fear, you also must accept that it is not your job to please every single person in the room. Do your best to get your message across, focus on the positive responses you are picking up and forget the others.
Although nervousness is caused by a mental lack of confidence, the body responds as if it were being threatened physically. In both situations, the body is reacting to stress. The solution is to find a way to control your body’s physical reaction. The following methods will help you relax.
Progressive relaxation is a method of systematic tightening and loosening various muscles of your body until your entire body is in a relaxed state. The action of tightening and loosening enables you to feel the difference between the two states in a more pronounced way.
Guided imagery is a relaxation method which transports you mentally to a place which you associate with peace and restfulness (the opposite of stress) and thus allows your body to feel more relaxed before a presentation.
Moving about before and during the presentation relaxes your muscles and processes excess adrenalin. So get up out of your chair and walk around a bit, in a relaxed way, where you can get away from the crowd for a short while.
Breathe deeply and slowly while others are speaking or before you are introduced and called upon to begin your presentation. Then, walk confidently to the podium and begin speaking with energy.