Recently, I was teaching a continuing education class on public speaking. When I asked people why they signed up for the class, the majority said the same thing: they wanted to work on their fear of public speaking.
As you can imagine, I’ve heard many hopeful speakers point to their fear of public speaking as the #1 reason why they haven’t started speaking yet. But I’ve also recognized that it’s not just the stage where people’s fears manifest. They also manifest when they’re at meetings, networking events, etc.
Imagine the possibilities that would open up if we could break those fears so that they no longer dominated someone’s decisions about whether or not to speak. In fact, let’s address the top three fears I’ve recognized—right here, right now.
Fear #1:Physically feeling ill, dizzy, sweating, anxious, having a panic attack, etc. These are situations when your body takes over and suddenly your head hurts, your shirt’s soaked with sweat, and you know it’s just a matter of time before people start muttering to themselves and each other about how unprofessional you look.
Solution: Instead of letting your symptoms take charge, learn how to visualize yourself on the other side of the situation when the cause of the fear has ended. For example, stand in an empty room, close your eyes, and visualize yourself about to take the stage. As soon as you start feeling symptoms, start visualizing yourself at the other end of your presentation when you’re leaving the stage. Let that feeling of relief rush through you. Let that big smile take control of your face. What’s nice about this kind of visualization is that you’re teaching your body that it’s not going to die if you speak. It’s also a practicing-stress strategy many athletes and performers use to deal with their fear of performing in public.
Fear #2: Freezing up and/or getting tongue tied. This might happen when someone is afraid that even though they’re very well versed in their topic, their words either won’t come out, or will come out as incomplete muddled-up thoughts.It’s as if their mind and body are disconnected and it’s obvious to everyone.
Solution:You probably know there’s always a conversation running through your head. But did you know you can take advantage of your self-talk by putting aside some time during the day to talk to yourself? A wonderful speaker taught me that time in the car is time you can use to practice parts of your presentation, answering FAQ’s, etc. Because you’re speaking these conversations out loud, you get to hear and listen to your own voice, tone, and cadence and can work on them until you’re comfortable. You can also use this time to develop your ability to speak “off-the-cuff”!
Fear #3: Feeling inadequate about your ability to join in the conversation—even when you know you have something of value to contribute. It’s not that you can’t speak, it’s more the belief that the people who are already in the conversation are speaking so much more confidently and easily than you ever could, that it just feels safer not to speak.
Solution:Commit to bringing your best self to the table. Remember that no one really knows what’s going on in someone else’s head. So share a genuine smile, make eye contact, shake hands, etc., with sincere interest in hearing what other people have to say. Going into situations with this attitude will take the pressure to be perfect off of you and the people you’re with.
We’re all human beings who want to connect and interact with each other. But we all also have “speaker buttons” that can push us into a fear response.That doesn’t mean we have to be “fear free” or “fearless” to be able to speak. It just means that we need to find ways to not let it stand in our way.
Don’t expect perfection. Actually, being less than perfect is perfectly acceptable – sometimes even appreciated.