5 tips to beat the fear of public speaking
Have you ever thought that you'd rather die than speak in public?
You're not alone, most people don't feel brave enough to show their vulnerability in front of others because they're focusing more on what other people think of them than the message they want to communicate.
Wanting validation from others makes us their prisoner, we're using their judgement to determine our worth. But, other people's opinions and thoughts are influenced by what is happening for them in that moment or their experiences in the past. We can't control their thoughts, so why give them the power over the way we feel?
When I talk to clients about why they hate public speaking they usually come up with one of these fears:
- I'll forget what I wanted to say and look stupid.
- I'll be so nervous everyone will be able to tell.
- My voice will tremble, my body will shake and I'll go red due to nerves.
- I'll be boring.
- Why would they want to hear from me?
- I'll say the wrong thing and they'll think I'm stupid.
This fear is known as glossophobia (yes it has a real name!).
Studies estimate that 75% of people suffer anxiety and nervousness when speaking in public and it's often related to a traumatic experience in childhood or early adulthood. There is also thought to be a genetic and environmental link.
What can I do about my fears?
The place to start is by identifying if possible, the experience that triggered your fear. Did you get humiliated in class when you read or was your first experience of presenting so bad you've never tried again?
Perhaps you've never actually spoken in public because your imagination has created such a scary 'what if' scenario that you won't even try.
Once you've got clarity on the trigger episode or thought if you don't remember any incident - then you can challenge that belief.
Our behaviours are often driven by beliefs we have about ourselves and the world. If you've picked up the message that you're no good at presenting or that everyone will know your nervous, then you'll carry that belief with you and look for evidence to reinforce it.
To challenge that belief you can:
- Look for evidence to disprove it. For example when you've talked to a group in a safer environment.
- Recognise that having that belief isn't working for you and make the proactive choice to build confidence in public speaking.
- Replace that belief with a new one. For example "I've never presented before and it might not be as scary as I imagine" or "Although I've found public speaking difficult before it is a skill I can learn".
- Once you've dealt with those 'gremlins' that hold you back you can start to look at practical tips to help build your confidence.
How can I cope with my nerves?
- Don't fight the fear - The physical reaction you have to being nervous - shaking, blushing, dry mouth etc are all a response to the adrenaline released in a 'fight or flight' situation. Your mind thinks it's under threat and reacts to prepare you to run or fight. Don't take this as a sign that you are going to be rubbish or look stupid. It's simply your bodies physiological response and it will pass. Rather than fighting the feelings the less attention you put on them the quicker they will settle.
- Prepare and practice - Most of us don't have the natural ability to 'wing' a presentation so preparation and practice are essential. Practise several times and have a dry run in front of a friend or video yourself. It will definitely make you less self-conscious on the day. Remember that practice doesn't make perfect though. You will make mistakes and that's completely normal
- It's all about them not you - When we're feeling anxious and nervous we tend to focus on ourselves. How am I feeling? What might I do wrong? Why do I always get so nervous? If you can shift your focus to the audience not only does it calm your nerves but it will lead to a better performance. Consider what your audience wants to hear and what they want to take away from the talk. How will that make them feel or how will it make their work/life better? Get excited about what you have to share with them
- Listen to your breathing - You'll probably have heard this before but being mindful of your breathing is one of the most effective ways to cope with anxiety and nerves. Close your eyes and observe your breathing for a minute then visualise yourself standing confidently in front of your audience, really look into the picture and notice how relaxed you are. Do this for one to two minutes and your breathing will slow. Then you are calmly ready to speak.
- Be aware of your body language - Research has shown that having a powerful body language not only gives a confident message to your audience but actually results in changes to your brain chemistry that makes you feel more confident. I'm not suggesting standing in a wonder woman pose but do open up your body position, stand tall with your head up and hands by your side initially and don't forget to smile!
Whether you're doing an important presentation at work or a thank you at a party remember nerves are normal and not always a bad thing.
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About Joanne Painter
Jo is the leading UK confidence and career impact coach. She works with women whose mindset and behaviours are holding them back, supporting them to have the skills and strategies to be authentically successful. Jo has coached hundreds of women and organisations to achieve amazing results, through 1-2-1 coaching, workshops and online programmes.