Deanne Repich is the Founder of the National Institute of Anxiety and Stress, Inc. An anxiety educator, teacher, and former anxiety sufferer, she created the Conquer Your Anxiety Success Program, a simple, action-oriented "how-to" course that has helped thousands across the globe conquer their anxiety.ÂView all articles by Deanne Repich
Surveys show that people fear public speaking more than anything else -- even more than they fear death!
When asked why they fear public speaking, most people say that they fear humiliation, embarrassment or judgment from others.
In a nutshell, they fear rejection. Why is the fear of humiliation and embarrassment so strong?
For most of us the idea of speaking in public triggers childhood memories of embarrassing times when we were made fun of and rejected by other kids in school.
Picture this: One morning Jimmy decides to wear his new red outfit to school. Jimmy feels on top of the world as he walks to school in the new outfit. The moment Jimmy reaches the school door a kid from the "popular" group points at Jimmy. He says: "Look at Jimmy's pants! That's a sissy color. Jimmy's a sissy! Ha ha!"
The "popular" group laughs. Although Jimmy puts up a good front and laughs it off, on the inside he feels crushed and humiliated.
Here's another scene that plays out in countless schools. The teacher asks a question. Magda's positive she knows the correct answer. She enthusiastically waves her arm, practically jumping out of her seat because she's so excited. Finally the teacher calls on her. Magda gives her brilliant answer -- and guess what happens?
The teacher says: "No, that's not the answer I was looking for."
The room bursts into laughter. Magda shrinks back in her seat, hoping that the further down she slouches, the more invisible she'll become. Each of us has experienced embarrassment and rejection similar to Jimmy and Magda's.
We carry these feelings of rejection with us as baggage when it comes time to give a speech or presentation.
The size of the audience doesn't matter.
Whether it's an audience of one or one thousand, we still fear being rejected.
There are hundreds of public speaking tips that can help you take a bite out of your fear of public speaking and make it a more enjoyable experience.
This article includes specific tips to help you in your public speaking.
1) Practice singing your speech. Pick an easy tune like "Happy Birthday" and sing the words to your speech. The act of singing involves both hemispheres of the brain -- the analytical left hemisphere and the more creative right hemisphere. When you sing you organize words (left brain activity).
You also use musical notes and rhythms (right brain activity). When stage fright -- known as the fight or flight response -- kicks in, analytical thinking is suppressed. The right hemisphere takes over by creatively and imaginatively creating a snowball of negative assumptions about your stage fright.
Singing refocuses your right brain away from the worry and replaces it with something more productive. When you're busy using your right brain to sing, it's too occupied to assume the worst and make you more anxious. The result is that singing calms the fight or flight response.
2) Empower your nonverbal communication. Approximately ninety percent of our communication with others is nonverbal. Your presentation begins the moment you walk into a room. Even before you start speaking, the audience forms a lasting impression of you from your nonverbal communication. How you present yourself -- your gestures, posture, and facial cues -- speaks much louder than your words.
When your nonverbal communication portrays confidence, you capture the audience's attention and it becomes receptive to your message. Nine times out of ten the audience won't remember more than a few things that you say during a presentation. What people remember most is the overall impression of confidence or lack of confidence you portray.
Since nonverbal communication is so important it makes sense to improve how you present yourself, doesn't it? Here's how: Pick a person you know, public figure or celebrity that you admire for the confident way they carry themselves. Make a written list of each of the ways they communicate confidence through their nonverbal communication.
For example, they might smile, laugh, stand tall, use gestures that portray passion, and display an attitude of self-assurance. Select three or four items from the list and practice them in a mirror until they start to look natural.
Practice moving confidently using the nonverbal cues of the person you admire as you go about your day and during your presentation. Notice how much more confident you feel! You can "fake it until you make it" with nonverbal communication. Scientific research indicates that the body and mind are deeply interconnected. Moving confidently physiologically creates the confidence you seek.
3) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! One of the best remedies for anxiety before public speaking is to be very well prepared. Practice the presentation well in advance by doing the following things: -- Visualize yourself successfully handling different parts of the presentation.
Here are some key images to visualize: addressing any nervousness before the presentation; entering the room confidently; the beginning, middle, and end of the presentation; continuing after a mistake or pause; and answering audience questions. Make the visualizations vivid and intense.
Visualize the details of your clothing, the faces in the audience, the smell of the room, and so on. After you visualize yourself successfully handling each situation, then practice each one live at home so that your body gets used to how each situation feels. -- Memorize the first thirty to sixty seconds of your presentation.
The first minute is the most memorable part of your presentation. It's that golden moment during which you either capture the audience's attention, or bore them. In addition to the words, practice how you'll walk, gesture, stand, and smile during that first minute. Spend quite a bit of time on this.
Remember, nonverbal communication is ninety percent of effective communication! Also, memorize the last thirty to sixty seconds of your presentation. After the introduction, the conclusion is what your audience will remember most. Although it's a good idea to memorize your introduction and conclusion, avoid memorizing the entire presentation or reading your presentation to your audience. Your audience will thank you for it. :)
Instead, write down a few keywords or phrases on an index card that you can refer to during the speech to help remind you of your main points.
-- Practice your presentation in front of a mirror, varying your practice and preparing for distractions. Watching yourself as you speak makes you aware of unhelpful nonverbal communication (e.g. fidgets, slouches, frowns) so that you can change it.
To help you prepare for the unexpected, which WILL occur, vary your practice. Start at different points in the presentation (e.g. the beginning, a quarter of the way through, half-way through, and three-quarters of the way through).
Varying your practice teaches you how to jump back into your presentation easily even after distractions, questions, or interruptions. Because the majority of people only practice from start to finish, they are left tongue-tied when a question, or other distraction gets their presentation off track.
You won't have this problem when you vary your practice. Another way to prepare yourself is to intentionally use distractions while you practice. Play the radio, or have a friend ring the doorbell several times during your speech so that you get used to confidently maintaining focus no matter what comes your way.
After all, distractions WILL occur, so why not prepare for them? -- Record your presentation on a tape recorder -- or better yet -- a videotape. A videotape is even better than a tape recorder because you can see your verbal AND nonverbal communication. After recording your practice, play the video, observe yourself objectively, and make improvements!
-- Give your presentation to a live "test" audience after you've practiced it solo several times. Your test audience can be a supportive friend, spouse, neighbor, or even the family dog. :)
Ask for comments afterwards and incorporate what you feel is constructive feedback. If possible, do a dress rehearsal the day before the presentation. Duplicate the presentation environment as closely as possible. Use the same room, overhead equipment, handouts, and so on that you'll use during the actual presentation.
Ask a friend or colleague to be your audience. Do you have a presentation coming up? Work on empowering your nonverbal communication, preparing thoroughly, and don't forget to sing the presentation to get both hemispheres of your brain involved. Like most skills, the more you practice, the better you'll get!
4) Get an accurate perception of the audience. Some people fear public speaking because they believe the audience as "out to get them" -- just waiting for them to fail. Nothing could be further from the truth! The truth is that the audience wants you to have a successful speech.
People really want and need the information that you're going to provide! Make your perception more accurate by realizing that the vast majority of the audience is on your side. Pretend you are chatting with a group of friends as you speak to the audience. Know that people really want you to succeed.
They are on YOUR side. Remember, fear of public speaking is the number one fear. People can relate to how you're feeling and are rooting for you to succeed! Trust me -- most people can relate to how you're feeling because many of them experience the same queasy stomach, rapid breathing, and fear themselves when they speak in public.
When you perceive the audience as a friend, you'll find that as you get a few minutes into your speech, your anxiety will lessen.
This changed perception makes a world of difference and will make your speech go much more smoothly. An important part of getting an accurate perception of the audience is realizing that the audience desperately wants to hear what you have to say. They really want to hear your information.
Focus on the information instead of your fear. Let the information speak for you. The presentation is not about people accepting or rejecting you at all. It's about the information, not you personally. Your role is simply to share information that they audience desperately wants and needs to hear. If you've given speeches before, you've probably heard this time-honored suggestion for stage fright: "Imagine the audience in their underwear as you're giving the speech."
Have you tried it? It works wonders to relax you and help you see the lighter side of things. Here are some fun images to help you overcome stage fright. They help you realize that the audience is not a threat to you.
Visualize the people in the audience: -- in their underwear -- in the nude -- with cartoon faces -- as little children -- as fluffy puppies -- slipping on a banana peel -- any other funny or non-threatening image.
The audience is made up of people, just like you. They have mortgages, jobs, make mistakes, have dreams, and feel embarrassed at times too. Whenever the idea of an audience feels scary, visualize a funny or non-threatening picture and the fear will start to melt away.
5) Aim for excellence instead of perfection. Focus on giving an excellent presentation, not a perfect one. Remember, most of the time you make a mistake, the audience won't even realize it. The audience doesn't know what you were planning to say! Even if people do realize you made a mistake; or forgot a key point, they won't hold it against you.
Your confidence speaks louder than your words. Making a mistake often helps you develop a rapport with the audience because it helps people realize that you're human, just like them -- you're not perfect either. The audience wants passion, not perfection. Don't read your presentation word for word from your notes.
The audience would much prefer to have an engaging, natural presentation that has a few minor glitches to one that is read perfectly but puts people to sleep. Be passionate about what you're saying and your passion will translate into confidence as you speak.
6) Choose excitement instead of anxiety. Here's a revelation that may really shock you. Are you sitting down? :) Here it is: There is no physical difference between the physical reactions of anxiety and excitement. Both anxiety and excitement are both caused by the body's automatic fight or flight response -- our internal alarm system.
The difference between anxiety and excitement lies in your thoughts. Fight or flight reactions become anxiety only after you go down the mental path of assuming the worst about what's going on in your body. Each time you give a speech you choose to make these reactions excitement or anxiety -- whether you realize it or not.
It's all in how you decide to perceive the reactions. You can train yourself to instantly transform your anxiety to excitement by changing your thoughts. It's all in your PERCEPTION. Let's say you feel nauseous before your speech.
You are at a fork in the road with two paths. You can choose the path of anxiety or the path of excitement. It's up to you. The path of anxiety is: "There's that 'sick to my stomach' feeling again. There must be something really wrong with me!" These thoughts make your symptoms even worse. The path of excitement is: "Great!
This fight or flight reaction is normal, expected, and harmless. It simply means that I'm excited about giving my speech! I'm going to give a great presentation!" Remember, the difference between anxiety and excitement is PERCEPTION. Make the choice consciously. Decide that you will embrace the physical reactions as excitement.
The physical reactions are there to energize you and help you through the presentation. Say affirmations that welcome the excitement like: "I feel excited, and that's OK! I use this positive physical energy to my advantage. The audience is in for an informative and dynamic presentation!"
Before you start the presentation, mentally visualize yourself flipping a big light switch to the "on" position. The "on" position means you are excited and ready to give a great presentation! If at any time during the presentation you notice that you're letting the anxiety take over, mentally flip the switch back to "on" to help you quickly and dramatically change your perception from one of anxiety to one of excitement and confidence.
Realize that you can feel physical reactions (sweating, trembling, etc.) AND give an amazing presentation at the same time! They are not mutually exclusive.
It's very normal to have stage fright before a presentation, and all but a small percentage of the population experience these SAME reactions before public speaking.
In fact, many public speaking coaches will tell you that it's impossible to give a great speech WITHOUT these reactions! Why? Because it's these same reactions that get you fired up and motivate you to wow the audience.
What's important is not whether you experience the reactions -- because humans do -- it's how you choose to deal with them. Focus on viewing your fight or flight reactions as positive, managing them so that they are not overwhelming, and leveraging your energy to give great presentations!