Scared of public speaking? You are not alone! Public speaking is routinely described as one of people’s greatest fears, beating out the fear of heights, flying, and even death!
Nervousness is usually at the heart of this fear, so overcoming it is a crucial step in becoming a pro speaker.
Where does the nervousness come from?
Often times, people overestimate the stakes of communicating their ideas in front of others and view public speaking as a potential threat to their credibility or image. From this POV, the audience is seen as a hyper-critical judge who is evaluating a presenter’s every move and deciding how worthy of a speaker they are.
Research suggests the universal anxiousness we feel at the thought of being judged stems from pre-historic times, when being part of a group was essential to our survival. So, the “if people don’t like me, I’m going to die” thought was actually real… which explains why standing in the spotlight in front of a crowd gives even the most experienced of speakers a case of the butterflies.
What happens when you get nervous?
When confronted with a life-or-death threat (like how public speaking is often perceived), our brain goes into basic survival mode and responds with fight, flight, or freeze.
Flight and freeze are the most common responses to public speaking:
- Flight: You avoid public speaking at all costs or, when you absolutely do have to speak, you try to do it as quickly as possible to get it over with
- Freeze: You feel stiff and artificial as you speak, or your mind draws an absolute blank
How can you overcome your nervousness?
1. Mind over matter.
Nervousness only begets more nervousness, causing you to get lost in your thoughts and spiral in worse case scenarios.
Instead of letting your anxiety carry you away, deliberately choose to take back control of your feelings and interpret your symptoms (pounding heart, sweaty palms, etc.) as a healthy dose of adrenaline that’s actually needed for delivering a passionate and energetic performance.
2. Take yourself out of the spotlight.
One of the most common public speaking mistakes is making the presentation all about you — what do you want to say, how do you want to say it, why do you think it’s important. No wonder so many people feel personally judged when presenting!
In reality, the presentation should never be about you, it should be about the audience — what do they want to hear, how would be the best way for them to receive the information, why should they care about what’s being said.
This shift in thinking will not only relieve you of the pressures of the spotlight, it will also help you craft a meaningful message your audience will more likely appreciate.
So, before any speaking event, research who the speech is intended for. Learn as much about your audience as you can to help guide your choice of topics and words, level of information, organization pattern, and delivery method. This will result in a well-crafted piece you’ll feel confident (or less nervous) about delivering.
3. Let your personality come through.
While the content of your presentation needs to be centered around the audience, the ideas are brought to life by you and only you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, share personal anecdotes, and inject your unique humor into the presentation. It’s a lot less nerve-racking to use your own voice to speak about a topic, versus try and mimic someone else’s.
Plus, authenticity establishes better credibility. And your audience will trust what you have to say more if they can see you as a real person.
4. Practice. And remember, practice does not make perfect.
Putting in the requisite time to adequately prepare for your speech will significantly reduce your nerves and help you deliver a better presentation. But mistakes can (and most likely will) happen, so don’t waste time worrying about a possible slip-up. Instead, focus your energy on putting your best foot forward and feeling confident in your well-rehearsed speech.