5 Strategies to Overcome Nerves in Public Speaking

Posted on April 9, 2021

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From Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill, some of the world’s greatest leaders had one thing in common: the fear of public speaking.

Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, affects 77 percent of the population at some level. This can range from sweating and an accelerated heart rate to dizziness, nausea, or a “fight or flight” response.

As a shift to remote working has become more prevalent, more communication is taking place online rather than in-person. And video chatting can make many people (who aren’t normally nervous) more anxious whenever they speak up.

Want to conquer your butterflies or gain confidence when you’re on the big stage? Here are five tips from the public speaking experts:

1. Practice Aloud in Advance

The best way to reduce your anxiety is to rehearse until you feel comfortable, and you will really settle into your message if you share it aloud several times before the big day.

Practice by yourself, before a mirror, in front of a video camera, or even with a friend, colleague, or coach who will give you constructive feedback.

2. Be at Your Best Physically and Mentally

In the turmoil of speaking preparation, this key to optimal performance can get lost in the noise.

Get enough rest. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol. And give yourself quiet time if you need it (i.e., if you’re an introvert), or mix-and-mingle time to get your juices flowing (if you’re an extrovert). Look out for yourself BEFORE you speak to ensure the best outcome when you do.

3. Breathe

Breathing from your stomach muscles, not your chest, naturally calms the nervous system.

When you want to reset yourself internally, take a few deep breaths before and even during your presentation. As you inhale, say to yourself, “I am . . .” As you exhale, say, “relaaaaaaaaaxed.”

4. Don’t Be Nervous About Your Nervousness

Singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, who was legendary for his live concert performances, once observed that if he felt completely relaxed before a show, he wouldn’t perform as well.

Speakers who lack confidence often feel nervous. Then they feel anxious about the fact that they’re nervous, which compounds the anxiety.  Remember, nervousness is just your adrenaline flowing. It’s a form of energy. Bruce Springsteen doesn’t get nervous about his nerves – instead, he channels this into excitement and power on stage. Successful speakers know how to make adrenaline work for them and turn nervousness into enthusiasm, engagement, and charisma.

It’s okay to have butterflies.  Make the energy work for you!

5. Practice an “Others First” Mindset

During public speaking, you feel “all eyes” watching you.

This can be painfully vulnerable, like a caveman exposed in daylight. While you may want to shrink back, calm your anxiety by focusing on your desire to encourage others. Sarah Gershman, President of Green Room Speakers, says this:

“The key to disarming our organic panic button is to turn the focus away from ourselves — away from whether we will mess up or whether the audience will like us — and toward helping the audience. Studies have shown that . . . showing kindness and generosity to others has been shown to activate the vagus nerve, which has the power to calm the fight-or-flight response. When we are kind to others, we feel calmer and less stressed. The same principle applies in public speaking. When we approach speaking with a spirit of generosity, we counteract the sensation of being under attack and start to feel less nervous.”

by Joshua Frank

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