Last week I was dragged on the stage to talk in front of 200 people. Gulp… It actually started pretty innocent – I was invited to my friends’ American – Italian wedding in Santa Barbara.
The wedding ceremony, held in one of the oldest Franciscan churches of California, was perfect and the bride was, without a doubt, the happiest and the most beautiful girl in the world.
Before the wedding ceremony, I might have mentioned that if the bride and the groom need my help with anything I am willing to give a hand.
Long time ago I’ve read in one very wise book an advice that said, “Never offer help just to be nice and never get frustrated if people will take you up on that offer.”
Probably I should have been more specific, when I offered to help, because the next thing I knew I was on the stage with a mike in my hand surrounded by 3 photographers, 2 camera men and over 200 people who were waiting for me to translate guests’ speeches from English to Italian.
I remember very little of it, but everyone (even those who did not speak a word of Italian) continued to complement me on my translation. So, I guess, it went well. Although, I was almost surprised that no one could hear my heart beating like crazy.
Now, I can not say that I suffer from ‘glossophobia’ or fear of public speaking. Worms and spiders scare me a lot more than a large group of people. But the fact remains – fear of public speaking ranks among the top dreads, surpassing the fear of heights, fear of spiders and even fear of death itself. As a comedian Jerry Seinfeld put it – “at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”
I’m not sure that this is always the case, but it reflects how much we may dread speaking in front of the big audience, be it delivering a presentation, giving a toast or sharing our thoughts and ideas with confidence and authenticity with other people.
If you are worried that fear of speaking in public may interfere with your ability to think straight and talk with clarity then here are 5 Practical Ways to transform it into Unshakable Confidence and Excitement:
1. Deep breathing.
Such strong emotions as anxiety and fear trigger in your body very specific “fight or flight” response: your muscles tighten, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up and your breathing becomes shallow. Sounds familiar?
While this physical reaction may be helpful in escaping danger it is hardly helpful during the presentation (as you can neither run away from your audience, nor fight with it). However, since your breathing rate is directly connected to your emotional reaction, the fastest and easiest way to take your emotions under control and regain confidence is through deep breathing.
Whether you are to talk to potential clients or make a presentation to your team, make sure that you remember to breathe deeply and evenly before and during your speech.
2. Shifting focus outwards.
Paul L. Witt, PhD, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, believes that many people perform worse than they could because they focus too much on their physical symptoms (i.e. butterflies, shaky hands, sweaty palms) and on their embarrassment instead of concentrating on their breathing and their speech.
This problem could be easily avoided by shifting focus from how we feel or look to the message we want to share with our audience.
Visualization or mental rehearsal has been routinely used by many top athletes as a part of the training for a competition. In addition to athletics, research has shown that visualization helps to improve performance in such areas as communication, public speaking and education.
To ensure that your presentation goes smoothly, aside from actual preparation and the rehearsal of your speech, take 10-15 minutes a day to relax, close your eyes and visualize the room you are speaking in, the people in the auditorium and yourself confidently delivering your speech, smiling, and moving across the stage.
4. Focusing on facts, not fears.
Instead of focusing on irrational fears (e.g. mind going blank, audience getting bored) concentrate your thoughts on positive facts such as: “I have practiced my speech many times”, “I am an expert on this topic”, “I have notes with major bullet points to keep the structure of my talk”.
Focusing on positive facts and on what you can offer takes your thoughts away from irrational scenarios about what can go wrong.
5. Building your speech on clarity, not complexity.
While it is often tempting to include as much useful information in your speech as possible, practice shows that this might not be a good idea. Organizing the speech or presentation around two three main points, allows you to relax and not worry so much about running out of time or forgetting to mention something important to the listeners.
I hope this helps!
If you have other tips to overcome fear of speaking in public, please share them with me in a comment section below!