Are you an executive, author, salesperson, entrepreneur, or professional with aspirations of success? Think you can avoid public speaking and achieve those aspirations? Alas, you cannot. Studies show that fear of public speaking and the inability to communicate effectively can be a hindrance to advancement – in school and in business. Indeed, Paul Argenti, corporate communications professional, said it succinctly, “If you want to be a leader, you had better be able to communicate.”
Is fear of public speaking stifling your ability to achieve success?
Here’s something you might not realize – 90% of people have public speaking anxiety.
If only there was a “fear of public speaking medication” that you dissolved on your tongue seven minutes before you took the stage, and then presto change-o, your stress level reduced and your charisma amped up. While there is no magic pill, there are things you can do to overcome your fear.
Many good resources out there like this one from the Mayo Clinic, as well as this site that shows infographics depicting “fear of public speaking facts” and this example of a “fear of public speaking essay”) will tell you things that you probably know already…
Learn all you can about your subject matter, so you’re comfortable with it.
- Learn all you can about your audience.
- Prepare an excellent presentation.
- Rehearse with a friend.
- Anticipate your audience’s likely questions.
- Dress to impress.
- Make eye contact with the audience.
- Remember to breathe.
- Go for a walk (or do push-ups; or go out to your car, close the doors, and scream) to burn off adrenaline.
Because you’ve heard all that before, here are my top tips (from a public speaker who has coached oodles of people) to dramatically reduce your fears of public speaking: (Please note – many of these are not instantaneous fixes – you’ll have to do some work!)
1) Look deep inside – Identify the beliefs and habits that are holding you back. What old ideas do you have about yourself that may not be true?
Perhaps one day in third grade, you were called upon by your teacher, Ms. Booker, to answer a question about Charlotte’s Web, and when you stood up to respond, you forgot what you were going to say. The class loudly laughed at you. In fact, you distinctly recall your very best friend saying, “What’s a matter, cat got yer tongue?” All while mean old Ms. Booker made that look of disgust whilst nodding her head back and forth.
And now decades later you still believe that you fold under pressure; you believe that you can’t articulate your thoughts in front of a group; and you believe that your reputation will suffer if you speak up. All because of something that happened for 90 seconds when you were eight and a half years old. I call those limiting beliefs The Lies That Bind You.
Your beliefs about yourself matter. Because beliefs turn into behaviors. Which means that limiting beliefs turn into limiting behaviors. What you unconsciously hold as truth (e.g. “I’m not a good public speaker”) might not be true at all. What beliefs or habits do you have that could be limiting your ability to speak up and speak out?
2) Replace those limiting beliefs with new beliefs and behaviors that are more effective.
Once you identify your limiting beliefs (some people call them limiting scripts or iceberg beliefs), you can work at replacing them with new beliefs about yourself that help you achieve success. Here’s an example of a limiting belief – “People are either born with charisma, or they are not.” And here is a spectacular talk by Olivia Fox Cabane about building your charisma.
Here’s another one – “I need to be perfect in everything I do.” If you hold that belief, then how do you think it affects your ability to deliver a speech or presentation? What if instead you believed that you could be imperfect and people listening to your speech would appreciate you all the more because your imperfections where just like theirs?
3) Find a safe place to practice and play.
Just like you can’t learn to golf by watching the Golf Channel (I still can’t believe there’s a whole TV channel dedicated to golf), you can’t learn to speak in public if you don’t actually do it! There are plenty of places to go to practice – like Toastmasters, public speaking meetups, presentation skills workshops. You can also work with a coach (like me!) who will provide you with a safe place and kind, gentle feedback while you work through and dismantle your feelings of nervousness.
4) Study others who do it well.
There are so many people who can demonstrate how to deliver a great keynote presentation or TED talk. And thankfully, many of them talk about overcoming stage fright and conquering public speaking anxiety. In fact, here are nine of those TED talks.
For example, Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School, talks brilliantly about body language and “power poses” in this TED talk. She explains how our body language and non-verbal behaviors can influence the inferences that other people make about us. Unconsciously, people decide how strong, trustworthy, confident, truthful, smart, and likable you are based on your body language. So when you are on stage, at the podium, or speaking in a meeting, what does your body language say about you? How much eye contact do you make with others? Do you take an expansive stance or do you diminish yourself by crossing your arms?
Oh, and if you haven’t heard Megan Washington speak about her mortal fear of public speaking, you must listen – you will be captivated.
4) Prepare for anything, and be ready to do some improvisation
Many people have such a phobia of public speaking that they make themselves nervous wrecks by imagining all the ways they could fail or falter in front of an audience. If you are prone to imagining what could happen – then use it to your advantage.
If you know you are prone to get a raspy, dry mouth, bring water to sip. If you fear that your mind will fog up and you’ll forget your point, bring thorough notes and prompts. Get all the information you can about where and when you’re doing your speech or presentation. What will the rooms be like? Where will you stand? What time of day will it be? What day of the week? Who will be attending? And what is unique about the people in that audience?Even if you do all of your homework, and know all there is to know about your subject matter, your audience, and the place you’ll be presenting, it’s important to also get as comfortable as possible with the fact that unanticipated “stuff” is likely to happen. The microphone will fizzle. You’ll knock your notes off the podium. Someone in the third row will vehemently shake their head in disagreement to each point you’re trying to make. That’s when you’ll have to rely on your ability to go with the flow, use humor, and use improvisational techniques to connect with the audience.
6) Visualize a great outcome.
Have you heard about the experiment by Australian Psychologist Alan Richardson where he took a group of basketball players, divided them into three groups, and tested their ability to make free throws? With the first group, he asked them to practice for 20 minutes each day; with the second group, he asked them to visualize shooting free throws for 20 minutes each day; and with the third group, they didn’t practice or visualize. After 20 days, the group that practiced was 24% better, and the group that only visualized but never touched a basketball was 23% better. No way!
The mind is powerful, and it doesn’t fully know the difference between actually doing something versus just visualizing doing that thing. When you visualize delivering your speech or presentation, you are strengthening pathways of neurons in your brain that will help you be a better presenter.