Some studies have “fear of public speaking” ranking up there with “fear of death”. In fact, if you’re one of those people who would rather get a root canal than stand in front of a group of people to make a presentation, you are not alone. It’s the #1 fear reported by people in the US.
While the anxiety can be debilitating, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some steps you can take to manage your fear. Here is what I’ve learned along the way.
- Remember to Breathe. Deep breathing —from deep down in your diaphragm (below your navel)— increases the blood flow and oxygen to your body. This helps keep your energy high, voice volume up, and your body relaxed. As simple as it sounds, it’s a powerful first step.
- It is NOT about you. Most speakers get nervous because they focus on what the audience is thinking of them, their proficiency, and what they “should” be doing. The reality is that most audiences are very forgiving and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your performance as a speaker. They came to listen to you because of your content. Most people don’t care if you look at your notes or lose your place for a minute. Take the pressure off yourself and place it on your material. Remember that you have a message to share; some specific knowledge to transfer or teach to your audience. That’s why they are here. It’s about your message and how it will improve their life.
- Know your material inside and out. Because it’s entirely about your message, you need to truly know your material. When you give a presentation, confidence comes from genuine knowledge of your topic and thorough preparation. That’s what will allow you to think on your feet and carry out an intelligent conversation about your subject.
- Interact with your audience. When all eyes are on you, it’s easy to feel a bit isolated. The pressure is all on you. Divert some of that attention back to your audience by interacting with them. Draw them into your presentation by asking them questions and encouraging discussions. Not only will it help you relax, but you’ll be a more dynamic and engaging speaker to boot!
- Some butterflies are healthy! In fact, getting a little keyed up can help you focus and enhance your performance. By the same token, keep in mind that sometimes excitement is mistaken for anxiety. Billy Joel once said that the minute he stopped getting butterflies before he went on stage, it would be his last performance. You should feel some level of excitement and put it to good use!
- Trust in yourself and your message. Be clear on the key points you want to get across in your presentation and trust in your preparation. Remember why your message is important and how it adds value. And remember that your audience wants and needs to hear it. That’s why they asked you there.
You may never love speaking to groups, but you don’t have to feel crippled or limited by your fear of public speaking. The worse thing you can do is ignore your fear or shy away from giving presentations. Instead, face your fear, work at managing your anxiety, and get some practice to boost your confidence!