Read time : 7 Minutes
Public speaking is an almost universal fear. I'm sure you have heard that it ranks higher than death on the lists of peoples fears.
And you might have heard the old joke that at a funeral, most people would rather be the one in the coffin than the one reading the eulogy!
But things don't have to be this way.
In your business life, being able to present yourself well is vitally important. And presenting yourself in a way that commands attention is next to impossible to do when you your legs are shaking and your hands are sweating from fear.
If you want to learn how to overcome the fear of speaking in public, read on...
1. Meditate (a little)
Meditation is one of the best tools for overcoming presentation anxiety. You don't have to be a monk or do any chanting though. By practicing a simple breath awareness meditation you will notice that you are better able to notice and manage the signs of stress.
If you are not an avid meditator, start with just 5-10 minutes a day. Within 10 days you will notice that you are more aware of when you are feeling stress and you will be able to let it go much easier.
If you are a technology person, this is good meditation app to start with
2. Use a "Pre-Presentation Preparation" routine.
As someone who has given well over 100 presentations in the last few years I can't stress this enough, your presentation begins at least half an hour before you step on stage.
You wouldn't lift weights without warming up your muscles and the same goes for your public speaking 'muscles.'
Here are the three things I do before every presentation
- 30 minutes out : Find a private place, put on my favorite song of the day, and dance my brains out (Usually done in a bathroom stall or my car as I drive to the event.) The goal here is to fight the tenancy to get overly serious and physically tense.
- 20 minutes out : Find a few people who I get along well with and start cracking jokes. The goal here is to completely forget that the speech is coming up and put myself in a great mood.
- 5 minutes out : Find a silent (ish) space where I can do a very short breath awareness meditation. The aim here is to become present again while maintaining the lighthearted and social mood I have been building through dance and conversation.
3. Train it ‘till you’re bored
Before presenting I often train my speeches 100 times or more. Although this probably is not feasible for most presentations, the philosophy of training your speech until you are bored of it is a solid way to fight stress. When you walk onstage bored of your presentation, you guarantee that when your body is flooded with adrenaline you will come across as somewhere between the extremes of boredom and extreme stress (I.E. Normal)
4. Avoid stimulants
Stimulants like coffee and energy drinks trigger an adrenaline response. This is our enemy. A stress response makes us less emotionally intelligent while also making our audience feel stressed. Even if you are a coffee addict like me, lay off the stuff until your presentation is over.
5. Self medicate
I don't advocate drinking or using painkillers to self medicate your way out of stress (which a surprising number of people seem to do before delivering presentations.) What I recommend as a tool to be less stressed and more compassionate when presenting is an amino acid called 5-HTP
In a nutshell this supplement boosts your serotonin levels and as a result makes you feel happier and less stressed. A good combo for us speakers.
6. Love the sound of your own voice
As narcissistic as this tip sounds, speaking louder has stress reducing properties.
There is a nerve in your body called the vagus nerve which has many functions, one of which is stress regulation. When the nerve is stimulated it signals to our brain to reduce our stress response.
Speaking louder stimulates this nerve.
So when you are presenting, speak loud enough that you can hear your voice echoing off the back wall. As strange as this feels initially it will guarantee that your audience hears you, perceives you as confident, and most importantly; that you feel more confident.
7. Focus on your feet and legs
By focusing on your feet and legs you can create a sense of security when you are speaking and also improve the quality of your voice.
Try these ideas out next time you speak :
- Walk to the location you wish to speak from, and don't speak before you have planted your feet shoulder width apart
- Bend your knees slightly
- Focus on centering your weight evenly between your toes and your heels. Not leaning too far forward or backward.
The reason standing like this makes us feel secure mentally dates back to childhood. Many reputable psychologists believe that one of our earliest fears is the fear of falling over. This falling fear is triggered as adults when we stand with our legs locked. By bending the knees and bringing our awareness to our legs we feel more stable and grounded. Both physically and mentally.
And the reason that this stance makes your voice sound nicer is a slightly complex one but follow me here.
When you stand with your legs locked, your hips angle back and your gut pushes forward, this makes you clench your abs so as not to look fat. That tension makes breathing harder and as we all know, when you aren't breathing fully your voice isn't at its best either (think back to the last time you had a cold or hay-fever.)
8. Put your nerves to good use
When we get nervous, we want to move! (Fight or flight response) To make this natural urge work for us rather than against us, my favorite two practices are...
- Embellish with gestures thoroughly - gesture to the point that you wonder if it might be distracting
- Practice strategic pacing - rather than pacing about practice planting yourself while saying something, then silently walking to a different part of the stage and repeating as necessary.
9. Relax your belly
When we are stressed and presenting one common issue I have noticed in myself and others is that we tend to clench up. We clench up all over but especially in the gut area. As we have already covered, holding this tension drastically lowers the quality of our voices.
Relaxing this tension in the belly that most of us carry unconsciously is an idea which I have borrowed from zen meditation practice. But there are also some interesting scientific ideas behind why doing this is relaxing.
When we relax our belly and open our arms to show more of our belly, we are exposing ourselves to potential physical harm.
In today's boardroom the odds that anyone will attack you are very low (in most workplaces!) but for our ancient ancestors, uncovering the belly and relaxing those muscles in the presence of others was at times a risky decision (think around a member of a hostile tribe.) This evolutionary inheritance is the reason that people tend to hide their belly and the front of their bodies when they are uncomfortable (known as blocking/shielding behavior in body language)
10. Give a damn
Above all else, if you want to be able to beat stress and anxiety while presenting, you must have a reason to.
You have to give a damn about what you are talking about.
I remember a time about a year ago, I was giving a speech and it was bombing. Judging from the mixture of apathy, confusion, and sleepiness on my audiences faces I knew where this was headed.
If I hadn't had a strong reason why I cared about my speech, it would have been easy to spiral and to let stress get the best of me and the presentation would have failed miserably.
But because I was motivated to really leave my audience feeling great and with a few actionable insights, the first thought that popped into my head was "I will not let myself do a disservice to these people by robbing them of the joy of an entertaining speech."
Because of that, I managed to turn my speech around and managed to leave them uplifted, even at 7:00 AM on a Tuesday.
A QUICK QUESTION : Which one of these tips are you going to use in your next presentation? Let me know in the comments section below.
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