12 Ways To Manage Public Speaking Anxiety
According to The Washington Post, public speaking is the number one phobia in America today. It may surprise you to know that even many celebrities have had to overcome fears of speaking in front of others. Warren Buffett was so "terrified" of speaking in front of a group of fellow students in college that he would avoid classes so that he didn't have to. And Warren Buffett isn't the only famous person who had from public speaking anxiety: Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Harrison Ford are just a few of the others.
So, if you do have public speaking anxiety, take comfort in knowing you’re in good company. Also, rest assured that you can overcome your public speaking anxiety just as thousands of others have.
Fear Of Public Speaking
For the most part, we may be fearful of being judged by our peers. When we stand on a stage in front of an audience, no matter how big or small, we might feel fearful that the scrutiny of the audience could expose our faults and weaknesses and that we might not be accepted. Our fight-or-flight response can be triggered, and we may feel naked and vulnerable.
Public speaking anxiety—often called communication apprehension—can also be due to social anxiety disorder. In fact, fear of public speaking is one of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, as laid out by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Ways To Getting Rid Of Public Speaking Anxiety
So if you get ready to speak and find your stomach is in a knot or notice your palms are sweaty and your mouth dry, here are 12 things that you can do to overcome public speaking anxiety.
# 1 Don't Expect Perfection
No one can give a 100% perfect speech or presentation, not even the most admired public speakers. Instead of setting yourself up for failure by expecting yourself to be perfect, rather attempt to reduce your public speaking anxiety by being the best that you can be.
#2 Don't Try To Be Someone Else
Steve Jobs used lots of slides and always wore a black turtleneck and blue jeans. Yes, he was a compelling speaker, but you may be more successful if you tell personal stories and wear a suit. Watch and learn from the best public speakers but don't try and be them. You have your style and message and trying to be someone else can increase your public speaking anxiety.
#3 Put It In Perspective
What is the worst thing that can happen? Everything goes wrong and you burst into tears, or you get booed off the stage, or a multitude of other embarrassing things? The chances are that you've been embarrassed before and you will be again and you will be okay just as you survived it the first time. Public speaking does not define who you are; it's just a small part of you learning something new.
When you feel nervous and get worried that you’re going to embarrass yourself, think about Neill Armstrong, the first man who set foot on the moon. He fluffed his lines in front of the entire world, and he's still a hero. He was so embarrassed that he denied it for years before finally accepting that he did indeed mess up. But he was the first man on the moon and making a public speaking mistake didn't define who he was. It definitely wasn't the worst thing that could happen.
#4 Remember Why You're Doing It
You're not standing on a stage in front of an audience to terrify yourself. You're not there to impress or be loved. No, you have information or a message you want to convey; your sole purpose is likely to teach, inform and help; nothing else. The less you worry about yourself and what others are thinking of you, and the more passionate you are about your subject, the more likely you are to carry the audience along with you. Positive thoughts and remembering why you’re there in the first place can make a big difference.
#5 Prepare, Prepare
Prepare your speech or presentation thoroughly. Do plenty of research, write down what you'll say, and edit and proofread it over and over again until you're ready to present. Make a list of everything you'll need on the day and make sure that electronic equipment like your laptop, projector or interactive whiteboard is available on the day and that everything is in good working order. If you're not handy with setting up electronic equipment, get someone to help you on the day. Your anxiety levels can rise to the roof if something isn't working or if you didn’t have time to get ready.
A Mark Twain quote says: "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."
#6 Practice (and then practice some more)
Gary Player, one of the world's champion golfers, said, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get." The more you practice your speech or presentation, the more confident you will probably feel, and the more confident you feel, the less performance anxiety you are likely to have.
Take advantage of public speaking opportunities on a small scale in order to practice. Give a talk in front of family and friends; reassure them that honest feedback is what you need and want, and not flattery and platitudes. Make the changes they've suggested if you agree with them, and practice in front of them again.
Ask one of your family to video record you on your phone or tablet so you can study yourself honestly and objectively. Are you using distracting hand gestures or speaking too quickly or slowly? Are you making eye contact with the audience and practicing deep breathing? Make the necessary changes and then video record yourself again.
When you feel perfectly satisfied, practice again. And then practice another three times.
#7 Make The Audience More Human And Less Intimidating
One way that could make your audience seem more human and less intimidating is to arrive at the venue early and meet some of them. Mingling and making small talk with your audience, and getting to know a few of them, can relax you and potentially reduce your fear of public speaking. Then, as you start to talk, you can also seek out their faces and make eye contact.
#8 Start With A Bang, Not A Whimper
It might take you longer to gain your confidence if you start your presentation or speech in a soft voice and small gestures. The first words out of your mouth should be loud and clear. Don't worry about being too loud; at the very least you will get the attention of your audience. The stronger your start, the quicker the stress and anxiety of public speaking may fade away.
#9 Don't Be Put Off By A Yawn Or A Frown
There are sure to be a few people in the audience who may yawn and fidget. Maybe they had a late night or aren't feeling well; don't focus on them.
If you glance at your audience and see some frowns, don't assume that they're displeased; it may be the exact opposite. They may be concentrating on what you're saying, and that could be their natural expression of deep thought.
If you can handle criticism, ask one or two audience after you've finished your speech or presentation what they enjoyed about it and what they think you could do better.
#10 What To Do About Stumbling And Bumbling
We already know we're not perfect so we can expect some stumbles and bumbles during public speaking situations. The bumbles and stumbles themselves aren't necessarily important; it's how we handle them. Positive thinking can be key when you have to talk in public. We can either fall apart at the first little mistake or carry on gracefully. Taking deep breaths, carrying on smoothly, and shrugging off the stumbles—even laughing at ourselves—is likely to be less embarrassing than walking off the stage in tears at the first sign of a mishap.
It's over, and you survived. It's time for some reflection: write down ten positive things that you did, and ten things that you can do better next time. Don't dwell on the mistakes. Ask yourself if it was as terrifying as you thought it would be, and if you will have less public speaking anxiety next time.
#12 Seek Help
If your public speaking anxiety is so intense that you feel that you absolutely cannot do it, you may be living with social anxiety disorder or a phobia. This is especially true if you feel nervous and fearful even when you speak with a small group of friends or family. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp can give you the support you need to manage anxiety symptoms, such as a fear of public speaking.
This is only one of the many benefits of online therapy, which also include convenience and affordability. Online therapy is also proven to be just as effective as in-person therapy when it comes to helping patients overcome phobias and anxiety.
Another solution to overcoming public speaking anxiety could be to enroll in a public speaking class or to join a club like Toastmasters, where you will get the support and advice you need to become an effective public speaker.
For some people, the more they speak in public, the less anxious they become; others may live with public speaking anxiety throughout their life but learn to use it to energize their presentation. Either way, one thing is sure: with the right tools and strategies, you can learn to manage the fear and confidently speak in public.
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