You’re about to be interviewed for a new job, or perhaps you’ve just been asked to give a speech in the near future… AAARGH!
The mere thought of it makes your palms sweat, your heart race, your breathing speed up and your body tremble.
You are not alone, you’d be surprised at just how common this is.
The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia and is one of the most common human fears, often ranked higher than the fear of dying.
As a presenter I’m often speaking to groups at business and mental health events, and even after years of giving talks I still get those nervous feelings every time. Thankfully, I learned a super-simple trick a long time ago which absolutely turned my life around. It allowed me to change the way I processed my own thoughts.
I’m going to share this trick (No.6), and others, with you today – you’ll be shocked at how simple it is.
1. The Crazy Audience…
Imagine your audience wearing something crazy. I used to regularly present to professors, academics and staff at universities as part of their staff development initiatives. I used to look out onto the group and see very highly educated doctors, psychologists, surgeons, lawyers and more all sitting there eager to listen to me.
Part of me could have become ultra-self-conscious, nervous and anxious… but being creative allowed me to imagine them all sitting quietly in bright white and yellow chicken costumes.
Imagine how perfect they all looked with huge white feathers fluttering about. Suddenly, my whole body calmed down. A natural smile held its place for the whole talk.
Many people have so much anxiety over speaking in public due to a fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of ostracism, being rejected and fear of not being good enough.
I believe these fears could be traced back to caveman days when going against the grain might have you banished from the tribe. Having to fend for yourself at that time could have been equivalent to a death sentence.
Overcoming this kind of conditioned negative thinking can tough, so imagining a situation that makes you feel safer and less likely to be “exiled” is the key to eliminating stage fright.
Try it. You could imagine your audience wearing caveman costumes or all painted in blue paint. Perhaps you’d like to dress them all in wizard hats or with funny fake-nose and glasses disguises. Anything that causes an instant smile… that’s the key to tip number 2.
2. Try some calming techniques.
Right before speaking, your body may begin to go into “fear” mode, often referred to as ‘Fight or Flight’. This definitely interferes with your ability to perform if you don’t know how to use this sensation to your benefit. Here’s a few tricks to calm you.
- Smile. Did you know that the mere act of smiling activates the feel-good neurotransmitters? The key is to create that smile even before you go on and maintain it throughout your presentation (if appropriate). You can do this by using tip 1 and imagining the crazily dressed audience members.
- Breathe. Sounds simple right? But taking some long, slow, deep breaths is often something we forget to do when overcome with nerves and anxiety. So try taking 2 or 3 big deep breaths as you imagine that audience and create that smile.
3. Practice, practice, practice.
A helpful way to confront any fear is through controlled exposure to it, and then repetition. Practice on your own, practice in front of the mirror, practice with friends, practice in front of the dog and practice in front of your camera – film yourself. The key here is to do it until it becomes normal.
Practice in advance and you’ll begin to neutralise the fear ahead of time.
4. Know your stuff.
Okay, so you’ve practiced a million times… but once that bell rings, anything can happen. Life doesn’t always go to plan, that’s something we can be sure about.
I’ve had things happen to me while presenting. A couple of times I’ve had the projector break down. Once I had a migraine and found it difficult to read some cue cards with specific details that I had prepared.
But I soldiered on because deep down, I knew my content. I knew what I was talking about. Sure enough I finished the talk and no-one was any the wiser.
Become fluent with your material as much as is possible before you go on. It will help you when life throws a curve ball.
5. Mingle beforehand.
This is a great little tip, one that I ALWAYS use. Anything familiar is often less intimidating. Think about it. Something that you’ve done a thousand times is less scary that your first attempt.
Well, the same goes for presenting, speaking to new people and being interviewed.
Attempt to mingle and even make friendly conversation with some of the audience beforehand. Introduce yourself, make a connection. It’s not always possible to do this in person, but you could connect virtually or post a comment on social media, share who you are and what you are excited to contribute.
When I do this beforehand, as soon as the presentation begins I feel like I’m addressing a group of friends. Seeing familiar faces in the audience calms any nerves. Try this before your speech and see the difference it makes.
6. Feel EXCITED not ANXIOUS
This trick has to be my most trusted secret weapon of all time. Such a simple example of thought reframing, but ultimately it has been my greatest help.
Think about all the feelings you get before a big event; the sweaty palms, the faster heartbeat, the shakes, the trembles and the shallow fast breaths (if you remember to breathe at all that is). Symptoms you would usually relate to anxiety.
But consider this… What if those symptoms were all simple excitement?
Excited feelings produce the same physical reactions as anxiety. The only difference is that you’re positively looking forward to the exciting event about to take place rather than fearing a negative.
So next time you’re in the lead up to an important interview, event or presentation tell yourself that what you’re feeling is actually excitement. It’s surprising what the mind can do when you start to change your negative fears into positive expectancy.
Even the simplest reduction from your fear of public speaking is an enormous victory. Never aim to be perfect — for a start, perfect is subjective (what’s great for you may not be great for someone else) and if you simply strive to be better each time, you’re only competing against your own best performance. Audiences actually love imperfection more, it makes you more human.
These tips really work. They each need a bit of practice, but they work.
Of course, if your fear stems from an unknown source or even a well-known traumatic event in your life such as bullying or abuse, seek help from a professional (such as myself) that is trained to seek out root-causes and teach you how to remove them.
Just be yourself and embrace the nerves, turn them into excitement, smile and best of luck.