If you were asked to list the things in life you fear the most, I dare say that the fear of speaking in public would be at or close to top of your list. According to statistics, it’s stronger than the fear of dying followed by financial ruin, spiders and snakes. The dictionary describes fear as a “feeling of alarm or dread caused by the expectation of danger, pain, or disaster.”
Fear is a natural emotion that we all experience from time to time to warn us of danger. Without it, we would probably not survive. However, irrational fear is a destructive, self-defeating emotion that prevents us from achieving our fullest potential. It represents lost opportunities, robs us of our self-confidence and limits our personal growth. The fear of not measuring up to expectations can be overwhelming.
Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking
FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real
To reduce your anxiety and put the problem in perspective, it’s important to identify the cause. The fears most commonly voiced by our clients are:
Making Mistakes – Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handle the mistake that’s important. If it’s a small one, ignore it and move on. The audience probably will never notice it unless you visibly or verbally react to it. If it’s one you can’t ignore, don’t apologise. Acknowledge it and, if possible, treat it with humour. The audience will appreciate the ease with which you handled it.
Being Boring – If you expect to be boring, you will be. Know your subject thoroughly and speak from the heart. Be sincere and let your audience know you’re enjoying yourself. (If you’re not, pretend you are! Public speaking is acting in disguise.) Use inflection, phrasing, pauses and word stress to give vitality and nuance to your words. If you sound interested you’ll be interesting.
Freezing or Forgetting – Avoid memorizing your speech. If you’re the least bit nervous you’re sure to freeze – and forget. Memorize your opening to help you settle down and get past the nervousness of the first few minutes. Memorize your closing to enable you to finish with direct eye contact. If you use notes or a script, use large print with plenty of white space for easy reading. Avoid being glued to the text by making frequent eye contact with the audience. They’re not interested in the top of your head. They want to see your eyes and the expression on your face.
Prepare yourself thoroughly. The better you know your subject the less stress you’ll have and more easily control your fear. It’s difficult to communicate effectively when you’re afraid, nervous or under stress. Visualize yourself speaking like a pro. Resist all negative thoughts and think positively.
Practice – There’s no substitute. Practice may not make you perfect but it will certainly make you more comfortable and relaxed. Practice often and out loud, preferably standing. Use a tape recorder and/or video camera to become familiar with the sound of your voice, style of delivery and body language. Invite friends and family to listen to you and ask for comments and suggestions.
Relax and be Yourself – Before beginning your speech, inhale deeply several times to help you relax. Using your full lung capacity rather than breathing high in the chest will help you stay relaxed. Talk to your audience, not at them. Be warm in your delivery and use a comfortable conversational style to allow your personality to come through. Audiences relate to the “likable” speaker. And don’t be afraid of moments of silence. The audience will never notice what can seem like an eternity to you.
Use Humour – Humour in your opening will relax you and warm up the audience. Wherever possible, pepper your speech with pertinent stories and incidents that are humorous, even though your topic may be serious. It establishes a connection with the audience. Fear can make you nervous but nerves need not make you fearful. While fear is difficult to channel, nerves, when channeled into energy, can be a positive force bringing vitality and enthusiasm into your speech. All performers rely on nervous energy to enhance their performance. You can too. Control your fear rather than allowing it to control you.
Your goal is to be comfortable and enjoy speaking before an audience.
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