Public Speaking Anxiety:
Public speaking anxiety is no laughing matter. According to most studies, it is our Number One fear. Number Two is death, which led Jerry Seinfeld to conclude that “if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy,” and one of my friends to add “I joined Toastmasters to find out what death was like!”
Even with a lot of experience, it is very rare to feel totally relaxed in front of an audience. But if you cannot get rid of the butterflies in your stomach, you can at least have them fly in formation by using the following seven tips I have gathered over many years of Toastmasters activities and public speaking experience.
1. Realize that people want you to succeed. We tend to perceive our audience like an enemy. However, audiences just want to be informed, entertained, or motivated. They are on your side. When you feel good, they feel good, so they definitely don’t want you to fail. Your public speaking anxiety is certainly not coming from them!
2. Inject some humour. Humour is a wonderful way to connect with the audience right from the start. Hearing laughter increases our energy level. Jokes are not always effective, but a few humorous words will go a long way in pleasing your audience. Some techniques include:
o the Magic Three – The first two items are alike but the third is the opposite: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire PR officers.”
o a different ending to a cliché: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you can sell him fishing equipment.”
o a simile, comparing two items from two unrelated areas: “The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.”
3. Tell stories. Storytelling brings us closer to our audience. We are all former children, aren’t we? Also, stories are the best way to make your point clear. You can use notes to give facts and figures, but don’t write down your stories: tell them from the heart. Speaking from the heart is an excellent remedy to public speaking anxiety.
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5. Be in your own body, not theirs. One of the causes of public speaking anxiety is that we often worry about how others perceive us. While it is a good idea to prepare to look and sound your best, once you are speaking, stop seeing yourself through your audience’s eyes. You are the expert, and they have come for your message, not for your looks.
6. Be passionate. Develop a passion for your topic, it will be contagious. Be so convinced of what you have to say that your only goal is to convey your message the best possible way. Having passion in your voice is more important than having precision in each word you utter. If you have passion, you will forget to be nervous.
7. Practice, practice, practice. When we learn a new skill, the learning requires a lot of effort. We are using our conscious mind, which can only process about seven bits of information at once. As we become more proficient, our acquired skill moves to our subconscious mind – which can process 2 million bits of information per second. There, the skill turns into a habit, requiring little effort. Practicing public speaking is no exception. The more you practice, the less you have to consciously think about the technicalities of presenting. It becomes as natural as walking, drinking, or brushing your teeth in the morning.
If you apply some – or all – of those tips in order to deal with your public speaking anxiety, you won’t necessarily become the next Anthony Robbins, but with those butterflies flying in formation, you are bound to enjoy the ride!