Fear of public speaking

Overcome your fear of public speaking

By Karen Pelot

April 15, 2013

Did you know, according to many researchers, public speaking ranks as the most terrifying thing a person can attempt to do? If you Google “top fears”, regardless of the researcher or institute, public speaking consistently makes it into the top five – usually #1 or 2.  It outranks snakes, flying, confined spaces, heights, and even intimacy. Yikes!

We’ve all been there, in the audience, watching someone on stage as they are overcome by the dreaded “deer in the headlights” look.  They’ve lost their train of thought, they are clearly uncomfortable, and they look terrified.  Not only is this miserable for the speaker, but it is pretty darn uncomfortable for the audience too, right?  We start shifting in our seats and try not to make eye contact with the speaker, thinking that might somehow ease his or her pain.  It is awkward for everyone involved, and can be a deal-breaker of many kinds for the presenter.

At some point, most of us in the business world will be asked to present to an audience.  It may be an expected part of your career, it may be something that is necessary for advancement, or it may be something you actually aspire to as a career platform.  Regardless of the nexus, finding ways to neutralize the fear so you can relax, and appear to be bright and interesting to your audience seems like a brilliant idea to me.

Listed here are five things to consider, after you have completed your due diligence and prepared a  professional/humorous/emotional/developmental – whatever the agenda requires – presentation:

  1. Your audience wants you to succeed: Remember they are almost as uncomfortable as you if things are not going well for you.  They are rooting for you, even if their support is silent.
  2. You are speaking to individuals: It may look like a huge and intimidating group, but in reality there is one-to-one communication happening.  Groups don’t have ears, people do.  Speak as though you are talking with the individual and your presentation will come across as personal and relaxed.  Your audience will begin to feel a rapport with you, and they will be receptive to the information you are giving.
  3. Your audience does not know exactly what to expect from you: This realization takes the pressure off feeling like you must deliver every word exactly as planned.  As long as your speech continues to flow congruently and delivers the critical points, it simply does not matter if you leave something out or the words come out differently than you planned.  Your audience will never know, so “chillax”, and keep going.
  4. Disburse the adrenalin: Shortly before you “go on”, pace back and forth for a minute, do a few jumping jacks, shake out your arms or run a few quick steps in place.  If there is no opportunity for one minute of privacy, just center yourself and take a few slow, deep breaths.  Doing things like this will disperse the adrenalin and dramatically reduce that “fight or flight” sensation that makes your heart race, your breath get shallow, and can even make you physically shake.
  5. Tell them you’re nervous: This may sound counter-intuitive, but look at individuals in the audience, smile, and tell them “wow, I’m more nervous about this than I thought I’d be’ – in whatever terms feel natural for you.  This acknowledgment tells your audience you are (very) human and they will begin to relate to you immediately.  In addition, showing your “normalness” reinforces the audience’s desire for you to succeed and ramps up your likeability.

Use these tips to take public speaking off your top-five-most-terrifying list and avoid being “the deer in the headlights” on stage.  Please remember none of the above can replace good preparation, but each may enhance it.  Very few speakers truly have the ability to “wing-it”. Those for whom public speaking appears to be an innate ability always have clear and specific knowledge to draw from, and probably a great deal of experience.

© 2013 Karen Pelot Mediations, LLC all rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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