By Lynn Griesemer
Help! You have to speak in front of a crowd. Will this audience be hostile or bored? Will you forget what you want to say? Dozens of negative thoughts race through your mind as you begin preparing for your speech.
The big day arrives for you to give your presentation. Your palms are sweaty, you feel your heart pounding and your mind seems to go blank. You feel a lump forming in your throat and your mouth is dry. You would do anything to get out of this moment.
It’s not uncommon for new and even skilled speakers to be afraid of public speaking. In fact, some people fear public speaking more than death!
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Why are people afraid to speak in front of a group?
1. All eyes are on you and you are center stage. It seems unnatural. It is not the comfortable one-on-one conversation where there are breaks in the dialogue.
2. Concern with what others think. Most of us are overly concerned with what others think of us. Rather than risk speaking in front of a group, we prefer to avoid placing ourselves in what think is a vulnerable or scary situation.
- Fear of failure. We worry that we will forget what we wanted to say and that we will be humiliated and embarrassed and therefore “fail” when we present a speech.
We can conclude that the root of the problem begins and ends with you. What can you do about combating fear?
SECRETS TO OVERCOMING FEAR
A major way of overcoming fear is to accept that you are afraid.
“OK, I’m very uncomfortable and afraid of giving a speech in front of a group.” (Acknowledge your feelings; don’t try to avoid or deny them).
Next, believe that you are capable of talking about what you are going to talk about.
“Even though I’m afraid, I do know what I am talking about. I spent a lot of time writing my speech, thinking about it and practicing. I even did enough research.” (Research provides you with the confidence you need).
When you acknowledge that you are afraid, you can say to yourself, “I’m afraid, but I know I can do something to change my thoughts and deal with my worries.”
TIPS FOR BELIEVING THAT WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY IS IMPORTANT
1. Agree that you are ready to speak about what you will speak about. If you’ve prepared and practiced and if you are sincere about your topic, the audience will probably listen to what you have to say.
2. Know that you are the expert of your own material. You wrote your speech and no one is going to know if you forgot to mention something.
3. Believe that your audience will be interested in what you have to say. Find ways to say things that will entertain and relax your audience. Be friendly and think of your speech as a conversation with a group of friends.
Confidence increases when you select a topic you are interested in and care about. Determine the purpose of your speech and gather background information. Prepare your speech to the best of your ability and believe that your audience wants to hear what you have to say.
A FEW EXERCISES TO GET YOU GOING
Although you may be prepared and ready to give your speech, you may experience some stress right before your talk. The following exercises can help you relax.
- Breathe. Do some deep breathing 30 seconds before you begin speaking. Inhale and exhale five or six times. The increased supply of oxygen to the brain may be enough to give you the courage to get started. You can silently do this before being introduced.
- Think positively: “The audience wants to hear what I have to say. No harm can come to me. They want me to succeed. I know my material. I am ready. My mind is free and clear.”
RECOVERING AFTER AN “EMBARRASSING” OR “FAILED” SPEECH
After you’ve given your speech, you may have the thought, “Darn, I forgot to mention a key point. I practiced this and left it out.” Or “I feel like a fool. I don’t think my speech went well.” Rather than fret about the things that went wrong, think about what you did well.
Rather than label yourself as a failure, tell yourself that (1) you have skills and talents, (2) you will work on improving and (3) greatness is something that is achieved with practice over time.
Fear of public speaking afflicts many people. The good news is that there are techniques to learn how to handle fear. Practice the methods listed above and feel your fear melt away.
Lynn M. Griesemer is the author of “Speak with Ease: 5 Secrets Guaranteed to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills,” (2017) and other books on public speaking.