Fear of Public Speaking - Manage It, Don't Try to Eliminate It
It’s the number one phobia on the planet, crossing cultural lines and geographical borders. Most people have a fear of public speaking and over the years I have developed and collected several strategies that work over time with practice, patience, and a real desire to work through it.
The first step is to realize that the fear, nervousness, anxiety or whatever else you call it, will never completely go away. As humans we are hard wired to have it. It’s adrenaline and we needed it when we were out on the savannahs or in caves and it was a signal to make a “fight or flight” decision when something was coming at us. We get that feeling now when we face something new, uncomfortable, or when we are in the spotlight.
It’s normal. It means your systems are operating as they were designed to do biologically. So if you can see it as a signal and not a problem, you’ve taken a big step. One way to accept the nervousness is to say “thank you” when you first start feeling that way. Don’t fight it. As soon as you start resisting it will grow and then it becomes the problem. Just appreciate it and it will begin to subside, but it never completely goes away.
Next is to prepare. Give yourself enough time to understand who your audience is, what they care about, and what would be useful, valuable, or of interest to THEM. Why should they listen to you? How can you make them care about your topic?
When you focus on your audience you can see your speech as a way of giving your listeners something of value. And your listeners will forgive whatever small mistakes you may make if they feel your content was worth their time and attention. Then you can have a conversation instead of a performance. When you feel good about the content of your speech, you relax a little and your delivery skills will improve.
Allow enough time to practice. Once of my favorite tips come from Seth Godin. In his blog a few months ago he suggested you practice in front of your dog. Love this idea and am passing it along for your enjoyment. Click here for his post. But what if you don't have a dog? Godin has some ideas on that too. I’m also adding mine.
In the analog days, some speech coaches recommended practicing in front of a mirror. I wouldn't really recommend that. But now everyone has a cell phone with built in video recording capability. Record a few practice speeches and see what the audience will see. Or have a friend record your practice. You may see things about your speaking skills that could be distracting. And you may catch some holes in your content.
In my next post I’ll talk about my best tool for long-term management of the fear of public speaking: visualization. In the meantime don’t forget to breathe!