We all have fears and phobias, and many of them we can avoid if we want to.
However, speaking in public or presenting to an audience is one that cannot be put off. As you progress with you career you will have to learn to become comfortable public speaking or it will limit your promotion.
Examples of the types of occasions include interviews where there are multiple interviewers, presentations in front of audiences or delivering speeches and hosting meetings.
A feeling of anxiety in these situations is very common. Some of the best speakers in the world get nervous before standing in front of an audience and having to talk but critically they do it anyway.
The solution to this anxiety is not an overnight fix, however it is something you can control with training and cognitive exercises.
We typically react both physically and mentally when faced with talking in front of a big audience.
Physically – Heart Palpitations, Dizziness, Sweating, Shaking, Freezing Up and Breathlessness.
Mentally – Going blank, Saying the wrong thing, Fear of looking foolish, Fear of being judged.
Fight or Flight Response
Our bodies release adrenaline into our blood stream during stressful situations. This makes us feel excitement and nervousness all at once. This is what causes the desire to run away or stay and fight it is also the body’s way of preparing for either of those eventualities.
Most people won’t know exactly how they will reaction until they are in one of these situations. This is why leading up to your turn to speak in public, your nerves will often feel all over the place.
Obviously the big issue is that fighting and / or fleeing are both inappropriate and unhelpful reactions.
The trick is to find a balance between excitement and calm through coaching and practice and trying some techniques that help you deal with the anxiety of public speaking.
Preparation Techniques for Speaking in Public
In all situations, coming prepared is the best advice. If the thought of speaking in public makes you anxious then trying to wing it on the day will only make things worse. .
Try these exercises to keep yourself calm and collected when it comes to it.
While this may sound obvious, it is important to remember to breathe properly.
When speaking in public, your breathing will often become shallow and erratic, meaning your pace is off and that you get out of breath easily.
It is a good tip beforehand to practice some breathing exercises. Take long, deep breaths to keep yourself calm. This will also help you practice your rhythm of speech.
This article lays out other breathing exercises to help when speaking in public.
A less obvious sounding strategy which is nonetheless very effective is to keep your body active before public speaking. You may become twitchy or agitated as your fight or flight adrenaline starts to kick in. This will help to burn some of that off.
Stretch your arms and legs, neck and torso and if you feel your legs are starting to twitch, move your ankles slowly in a circular motion as you might do on a long flight.
This helps the flow of oxygen around the body and helps you to focus and feel more in control.
Before you take the stage, have a few sips of water to make sure that your mouth is lubricated. This will help you get your words out easily and get off to a good start. Avoid sugary and / or caffeinated drinks which can make you jumpy or anything that will dehydrate you.
Have water to hand during your speech but don’t hold it in your hand the whole time as this can become a fidgety distraction.
Looking after your physical self before entering a potentially stressful situation is imperative to help you feel relaxed.
If you feel in control of the situation you are more likely to feel calm and so you are able to command and engage your audience with confidence.
Even when you’re practicing, it is a good idea to incorporate these tips as it will help you get into a routine where you feel comfortable about the process.
Public Speaking Practice
Before speaking in public, always practice, practice, practice!
Whether you are giving a slide presentation or delivering a speech, it is good to hear how it sounds before it reaches an audience.
So, when you are preparing for speaking in public, remember these tips to help you really get to grips with your material and your physical presence:
You may have practiced what you are going to say in your head plenty of times already. But saying it out loud is good practice as it may come across completely differently to how you expect it to.
This will help you to identify words that you might trip up on and enable you to find an alternative before the day. It will also help you to avoid rambling sentences or silences.
It might seem strange to deliver your speech in front of a mirror, but this will allow you to see your body language, your posture and hand movements.
Non-verbal communication speaks volumes and can help you drive your points home. Avoid fidgeting but do move around if it fits the situation as this will help you to connect when presenting to larger audiences.
No one expects you to know it all off by heart, but equally you shouldn’t read from a script either. This will come across as mechanical and not engage your audience at all as you will be looking down most of the time.
If you need to make some notes on your speech or presentation (and most people do), make them brief and invisible to the audience.
Cue cards are helpful as prompts to take breaths, stop for pauses or to remind you of the key points you want to make about a topic. Don’t let them become too long though as they can become a distraction and disrupt your flow.
Practice your speech over and over until you are comfortable with your content and delivery as this will avoid the need for notes.
This will help you prepare for and get used to your nerves and also build your confidence about your material. The feedback you will receive is invaluable as it can point you to areas that need improving and areas that you can feel confident about in your speech.
Remember to ask them for questions about what you delivered. The chances are your audience will ask the same ones, so this will allow you to prepare answers in advance.
If the thought of speaking in front of an audience still makes you feel very anxious, public speaking courses can help you control your nerves, work on your weakness and elevate your strengths.