Presentation Skills: Fear of Public Speaking – Dealing with Stage Fright

By Morag Barrett on June 19, 2012

Posted by Morag Barrett | June 19, 2012Presentation Skills: Fear of Public Speaking – Dealing with Stage FrightAnyone who tells you that they are not nervous as they get up to deliver a presentation are either lying or haven’t prepared.  I have been presenting to large audiences and group events for over 15 years and I promise you that I still get nervous before I start. Those who have seen me will know that I spend the final 15 minutes before I ‘go on stage’ pacing and doing last-minute checks of equipment, my speaker notes and so on.If you can accept that nerves are part of the public speaking experience, it will help you to leverage and manage them, rather than react to them.  Not being nervous is not necessarily an indicator of an effective speaker!  The key is not to let your fear of public speaking turn into full-blown stage fright.There is science behind the fear of public speaking and the stage fright, our brains and bodies are hardwired to react this way.  It’s the fight or flight response that causes adrenalin and other chemicals to charge around our bodies, preparing us to deal with whatever threat has been detected, in this case the fear of public speaking.  However, in modern-day life the threat of meeting a sabre toothed tiger is somewhat remote, yet our brain is still hardwired the same way to help us to react swiftly and hopefully remove us from the danger or see the danger off.How many times have you been ready to talk to your team, your partner, an audience and all of a sudden you hear yourself say “I didn’t think I was this nervous”.  Intellectually you are not scared, but somewhere inside there is an automatic response building, getting you ready for the anticipated confrontation, getting you ready for battle.How do you know if you are nervous?Each of us responds differently.  Be aware of your personal clues.  In my case, my heart rate increases, I start my pacing, I can’t focus on things and I feel (and fear) that my mind has gone blank and that I can’t remember anything about what I am going to say.  I get thirsty and when really stressed I start talking quicker and quicker.  My presentation runs the risk of becoming one of  “I just need to get this over with and out of here” rather than a focused and deliberate delivery of key information.What do we get stage fright about?What if they don’t like me?  What if I forget what I am going to say?  What if something goes wrong?When I ask participants in my presentation skills classes what they most fear about public speaking, the answers all tend to be about the possible negative outcomes.  I don’t think I have ever had a participant say ” what most worries me is being an outstanding success and having to do this again”.  Why is it we tend to focus on the worst case scenarios and results?Here is the most heartening piece of news.  The audience DOES NOT want you to fail.  They share your stress and anxiety when things don’t go smoothly.  Despite your first thought, they are your ally through this and are willing you to get through this well.  Plus, as important as you might think you are, it should be your content that is the star of the show, you are merely there to deliver the message effectively and appropriately.How to manage anxiety and a fear of public speaking:Go for a walk.  If you need quiet time before you deliver your presentation, then walk around the block, if that isn’t feasible, don’t be afraid to ask for time alone so that you can focus on the task at hand.Have a drink of water / something to eat (before your talk).  This settles the stomach and provides energy release as you deliver your presentation.  A note on water – room temperature is best.  Hot and cold drinks affect your vocal chords.  Don’t be afraid to stop during your presentation and take a drink.  It may feel like you have stopped for hours, but trust me, to the audience they will only see you taking a quick drink.  This short break, this distraction for your mind, can be all that it takes to get your thoughts refocused and back on task.Breathe slowly and deeply.  It may sound obvious, however, focused breathing really will help to slow your heart rate and your racing mind!Picture Success. Picture your ‘happy place’ and picture a successful outcome.  So many of us worry about worry about things that are outside our control.  If you have prepared for the presentation, stop worrying, picture the applause from the audience.  Picture your last vacation, anything that calms you and helps you to focus with positive thoughts.Ask your audience a question.  This allows you to gather your thoughts, enables audience participation and depending on the question, check understandingUse humor.  This doesn’t mean that you need to be a stand up comedian.  If it doesn’t come naturally then DON’T DO IT.  Make sure that any humor is directed at yourself and not your audience or you run the risk of offending and possibly alienating them.Feel free to let me know what tactics you employ to reduce the fear of public speaking and I can add them to the advice here.Related ArticlesTags »communicationEmotional IntelligencePresentation Skills Share
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