So how do you feel when you take the stage to give a speech? If you are like most of us, there is a bit of fear that is running through your body. How am I going to do? Am I going to forget what I want to say? Will the audience like me? For some of us, this fear can morph into an all-consuming fear of speaking. When we start to feel our nervousness getting out of hand, we need to first understand what is happening. Next, we need to take steps that will allow us to deal with our stage fright and still get on that stage and deliver a good speech.
But I’m Afraid To Speak
As speakers we know that stage fright is a real thing. There are a lot of people who would rather stand naked on top of a 30-story building on fire, covered with spiders and snakes, than to speak in front of an audience. We all know that this is the truth. Many people experience some anxiety when speaking in front of others, both in person and even remotely on a conference call or during a Web presentation. The fear of presenting can be palpable, pervasive, and often problematic for speakers. The good news is that with both practice and persistence, you can learn to manage your anxiety rather than have it control you.
Dealing With The Physical Symptoms Of Stage Fright
Many speakers ask how they can deal with the flushing – becoming red in the face, neck or upper chest area – and shaking that often comes with public speaking? As speakers we need to understand that many people report multiple physiological symptoms of speaking anxiety. Some of the common signs of nervousness include repeating words, stuttering or using filler words, such as uh and um, lack of eye contact, fidgety arms and hands, shallow breathing, swaying and pacing, flushing. Speakers may also experience what is called “plumbing reversal” – what is usually wet gets dry (e.g., dry mouth) and what is dry gets wet (e.g., sweaty palms and brows). All of these responses are completely natural and normal. As human beings they are our inherent “fight or flight” reactions.
The good news is that a speaker can take several easy steps to combat shaking and flushing. First, they need to take time to breathe slowly and deeply at the onset of the symptoms. Also, they can practice “belly breathing” – filling their lower abdomen by inhaling slowly through their nose and exhaling slowly through their mouth. Doing this will help a speaker control their nervousness. Second, a speaker can lower their core body temperature. Just as you might place a cold compress on a child’s feverish head or neck to reduce his temperature, a speaker can lower their body temperature by holding something cold in the palms of their hands. This is easy to do – an easily available chilled bottle of water is ideal. Finally, you can calm shakiness by giving your nervous energy a place to go. An example of this would be if you start your presentation by stepping toward your audience while gesturing broadly. Alternatively you can secretly squeeze your toes. By taking these simple and effective activities a speaker can eliminate their shakiness by ridding themselves of excess energy. You can reduce your flushing by holding a cold bottle of water before entering the stage. Once you know that you have the tools to manage your anxiety symptoms, this will bolster your confidence considerably.
Dealing With Psychological Barriers
Lots of speakers want to know how to deal with the intense scrutiny and judgment that they feel when speaking. When we are presenting, it is easy to feel as if you are under a microscope, with your audience evaluating your every move. We can best address this “being in the spotlight” anxiety by changing our mental focus. Rather than seeing your presentation as being about you and what you want to say, instead put the focus on your audience and ask yourself, “What does my audience need to hear?” and “How can I ensure my listeners get the information they need?” The answers to both of these questions will move the spotlight away from you and place it on your audience. When you are giving a speech make sure that you make a connection with your audience by including relevant, understandable evidence in your content. Take their questions when you are finished speaking to allow your audience to validate their understanding of your message, and to clear up any confusion.
Dealing With Practical Concerns
So what is the ideal way to prepare for your next presentation? Nothing bolsters confidence and keeps your speaking jitters away like having a well prepared and practiced presentation. To begin, take the time to identify your presentation delivery date; then go ahead and map backward to set some deadlines for yourself. Give yourself three to four full days to practice your presentation. Understand that this means your speech must be completed almost a full week before you deliver it. Be sure to allow yourself at least five days to write the content. You may need to schedule more than five days for writing if your topic requires any research or if you are going to rely on others for help. Make sure to mark all of your deadline dates on a calendar and meet each one by managing your time. When you are practicing, verbalize your presentation. All too often, people practice in their heads and then fail to speak the words.
Additionally, always engage in focused practice. You are going to want to “Chunk” your presentation into logical units such as the introduction, point 1, transitions and then the conclusion. Chunking makes your practice time and anxiety much more manageable. Make sure to practice each unit separately until you feel comfortable and relaxed with your material.
What All Of This Means For You
Being nervous when faced with giving a speech is something that we all have to deal with. However, when that feeling of nervousness starts to take you over it can have a negative impact on the quality of the presentation that you make, this is time for you to do something about it. The good news for speakers is that stage fright is something that we can control with the proper practice.
Stage fright can take on many different forms in a speaker. One of the most common forms is when we start to have physical symptoms of being nervous. Our faces can become flushed, and our hands can start to sweat. We can deal with this by controlling our breathing and holding something cool in our hands. If you find yourself dreading having your audience stare at you, then you can shift the focus to them by thinking about what their needs are. The key to getting over stage fright is to make sure that you are prepared for your next speech.
The good news about speaking is that no matter how much we may dread giving a speech, rarely do people actually die on stage. Instead, we need to understand what we are going to be going through as we stand before our next audience. Once we understand this, we can take steps to deal with the symptoms of stage fright. If we can master these feelings, then we can give a great speech!
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™
Question For You: What can you do before you start to give a speech in order to help you manage your stage fright?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!