So you dread public speaking.
I doubt I need to tell you that you aren’t alone. When people find out I’m a public speaking coach, there are few who say “I love giving presentations!” (usually they say something to the effect of “Oh, god, I need your help!” followed by a rant about the depth of their fear and incompetence).
If you are among those who are embarrassed by the fact that you are a nervous speaker, I’ve got good news: confident people also get the jitters, and there are steps you can take to prep your mental game and boost your confidence when its time to take the microphone.
Why Even Confident People Fear Public Speaking
The idea that outgoing, confident people don’t experience speaker’s anxiety is false.
I’ve personally seen self-assured extroverts go to pieces when they get up to present.
There are plenty of records of top-tier actors experiencing terrible anxiety before going on stage. Boiling the ability to speak in public down to a matter of innate confidence is a gross oversimplification of the complex psychology behind this act.
You see, we all have an inner Grok the Caveman. And he is very, very afraid.
He is afraid of being hungry, of being eaten by a bear, of being cold and lonely. He is really afraid of public speaking.
Grok hates pretty much everything about speaking for a variety of reasons. We humans don’t like to be standing alone in front of a crowd of people who are staring at us. It triggers a flight-or-fight response as though we are facing a predator.
After all, it’s hard to fight off a mob when you are alone.
Public speaking opens us up to rejection, which we – pack animals that we are – instinctively avoid. There is also that sense that we’re being tested and judged. That anxiety is ratcheted up if we’re perfectionists or if there is an expectation of perfect performance placed on us by others.
How to Get Over Your Fear of Public Speaking
Even if we logically know that the audience isn’t about to attack us or the world will not come to an end if we screw up a line or two, the Grok part of our brain thinks otherwise.
Getting anxious about public speaking isn’t a failing in your character or overall confidence – it’s a natural reaction to something that we find frightening on a very primitive level.
While a big dose of personal confidence can help make Grok yell a little more quietly, it won’t shut him up completely. Fortunately, there are other strategies you can use to make Grok more submissive. Here’s how to get over your fear of public speaking.
1) Prepping Your Mental Game
Boosting your mental game takes a lot more than repeating positive affirmations. “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” isn’t going to cut it when your inner caveman is screaming to cut and run.
The mental game starts with looking your public speaking fears in the eye. Are you afraid that the audience is going to reject you?
That they’ll ask questions you can’t answer?
Grok is good at thinking of scary things.
But keep the scenario realistic. The audience isn’t going to chase you out of the room with pitchforks. If you forget your material, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll pull a Michael Bay and flee the stage. Somehow, you’ll stumble through. It won’t be a graceful performance but at some point it will be over.
Once you’ve taken a realistic look at those fears, it’s time to plan how to deal with them during or after your talk. Let’s say you forgot a chunk of your presentation.
How can you fix it?
You could email the attendees afterwards and fill them in on the material you forgot. How could you deal with an audience that doesn’t like you? Try inviting them to contact you personally and open a dialogue with them.
To strategize ways to deal with a poor presentation gets you thinking past the presentation itself.
It makes the presentation part of a larger scenario, and snaps your brain out of thinking that your life ends when you get up to speak. It lets the reasoning side of your brain drown out the inner caveman and gives you a sense of control over the greater outcome.
Now visualize knocking your talk out of the park. See it happening in vivid detail.
- How do you feel?
- What are you wearing?
- Who is in the audience?
- What questions do they ask?
Go into as much detail as possible, and picture this scenario several times. This form of mental rehersal is the same process athletes use when they visualize themselves doing a perfect play. You are priming your brain for success. Grok only pictures the frightening scenarios.
By repeatedly visualizing everything going right, you are banishing Grok and his fears to the corner.
2) Enlisting Confidence Boosters
Losing your cool during your speech? There are a few things you can do during the presentation itself to lower anxiety and boost your confidence a few notches.
First up, borrow a page from yogis and breathe deeply when speaking. Short, panicky breaths increase your heart rate and make the feelings of panic worse. Conversely, deep, slow breaths help drop your heart rate and blood pressure, helping your body calm down.
Focus on pulling the air straight down towards your navel. Bring a bottle of water, and when you start taking shallow breaths or feel panicky, take sip and buy yourself time to take a soothing breath before continuing.
3) Keep Tabs on Your Posture
When poor Grok gets frightened, he shrinks into a defensive position: shoulders hunched, chest caved in, and avoiding eye contact. This scared, un-confident posture reinforces feelings of insecurity.
Counter it by standing proudly – weight evenly distributed on your feet, shoulders square, and chest up and proud. Look your audience in the eye. Your internal chemistry will shift to support and encourage feelings of power, competence, and confidence.
4) Ditch the Notes
Finally – and here’s where it gets scary – ditch the notes.
I’m totally serious. Get rid of your reams of speaker notes. Go instead with a very basic outline: one page with only the main ideas written down, like headers in an article, in a big bold font. Using excessive notes reinforces your own belief that you can’t give a presentation without the crutch of a script.
Going up with no or minimal notes is incredibly freeing. You stop obsessing about saying every line perfectly and start having a real conversation with your audience. For most of my clients, ditching their notes is both the most terrifying and liberating confidence tactic they use.
Fear of public speaking affects the vast majority of us.
But it shouldn’t stop you. Accept that you will get nervous. Take the time to practise your mental game, and make use of confidence boosters when you need that burst of chutzpah. You have it in you, so reach out grab that microphone!
Do you have a fear of public speaking? Leave a comment below.