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How to Ease Your Fear of Public Speaking

by Carrie Beckstrom     Oct 28, 2021 12:59:07 PM

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“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Jerry Seinfeld

 

We hear you, Jerry. While most of the people we've trained in public speaking over the years wouldn't opt for death over the stage, "stagefright" is common. We often see the signs: trembling, shaky voice, nervous pacing, and sometimes, freezing into a stony silence from fear.

The fear, according to Psychology Today,

"Often arises when people overestimate the stakes of communicating their ideas before others, viewing the speaking event as a potential threat to their credibility, image, and chance to reach an audience.The underlying fear is being judged or negatively assessed by others."

The speaker becomes, in a sense, "more afraid of being afraid" than the presentation itself. 

Having the confidence and ease to communicate with others can become a personal strength if you develop it. By advancing your public speaking skills, your career and business can prosper. 

So suppose you or someone on your team are ready to alleviate the fear of public speaking, aka glossophobia (big name for a condition that can be cured by transferring that nervous energy into positive outcomes). 

What's your next best step?

Expert guides and coaches—and lots of practice—will help you become a more confident, compelling speaker who can engage an audience, deliver a message with impact, and inspire people to action. 

In the meantime, keep reading for more information and pointers...  

 

Chapter 1

What is Glossophobia? (Fear of Public Speaking)

Today our worst fears may have shifted to politics, environment, economy, and illness. But the fact remains we're still overwhelmed with anxiety when it comes to public speaking.

Have you ever experienced trembling, racing heartbeat, increased perspiration, dry mouth, or that nauseating panic right before you were going to face your audience? Most people experience one or all of the symptoms of nervousness when they give a speech or presentation. 

Over 70% of HR professionals believe that public speaking is critical for your career success, yet 74% of people have some degree of speech anxiety that stops them from reaching their potential.  

So what can you do about it?

First, realize you are not alone when it comes to speech anxiety. Second, understand that glossophobia is a real thing and acknowledge it. There are four stages of your public speaking anxiety, and understanding the stages will help you get over, or at least control it. 

Let's take a look at the stages...

Stage 1: 

You experience that fight-or-flight response. Those winged insects you once called "butterflies" just got a whole lot bigger. 

But running is not an option.

Stage 2:

You're going through with it. And hope your fear isn't as visible to your audience as it is to you. A flutter of butterflies is usual and might even give you more focus. 

Contrary to what you think, that your body will betray you (shaking, knees knocking, sweaty palms), most of the audience will not realize how extremely nervous you are. They are wrapped up in their world, and the naked eye cannot detect many indicators of fear. 

Stage 3:

You realize that a perfect speech isn't possible. Perfection is an ideal that is unattainable for most.

"The irony of perfectionism is that to hold such a high standard, as an ideal, is an imperfection; it is an irrational and illogical standard by which to gauge and determine success or happiness." [source]

So why are you doing this to yourself?

Realize that you can only do the best you can. Perfection and the belief we are without a single flaw is overstated, and the fear of inadequacy leads you to believe in your insecurities. Being imperfect is being human. And the welcome reality is, audiences want you to be authentic, even if it means making honest "mistakes."

So you go into high gear and Stage 4.

Stage 4:

You realize everyone is faced with the same fear and decide to use some coping mechanisms and techniques (which you'll learn in the next couple of sections) to get you through what once was the biggest ordeal in your life by simply putting your best self forward. 

Here are some steps you can take to overcome your fears and learn to love public speaking...  

Chapter 2

Public Speaking Anxiety Tips - How to Calm Your Fears

There are several ways to overcome glossophobia.

They include preparation and rehearsing, getting rid of your limiting beliefs, engaging in positive self-talk, visualizing your best performance, and more.

Let's dive a little deeper.

We know preparation is a key component. But knowing your audience and material is more than half the battle.

1. Know your audience—and relate to them

Are they bottom-line focused, or do they want the soup-to-nuts presentation?

If it's a get-to-the-point crowd (say, C-level executives), get to the point. For most other audiences, just remember you have the knowledge your audience wants. Help them better relate to your message by tapping into their emotions and needs. Share a few illuminating stories to keep it real and meaningful.

In other words, tailor your content to what your audience cares about.

Here are a few thoughts from Sarah Palmer, Power Speaking, Inc. Director of Business Development, EMEA...

HubSpot Video

 

2. Know your topic/material

Just as important and going hand in hand with knowing your audience is knowing your material inside out. The better you understand your topic and material, the better your presentation will be.

This also means being prepared for possible questions or objections.

Focus on your material and bring new information on the topic to the forefront. People pay attention to new, relevant information.  

3. Figure out what scares you

Challenge your specific worries and eliminate the fear of rejection. Investigate your concerns by making a list of things that make you feel anxious or afraid. Address each and try to cope with or eliminate them. 

Fear is not the problem...it's the meaning we attach to fear.

4. Practice often and aloud

Nothing can make you better at public speaking than practice. The ole saying, practice makes perfect, can be used here to say that people become better at something if they do it often. 

Formal practice will make you feel more confident and ready to engage with your audience.  

5. Be protective of your self-talk

“You will never speak to anyone more than you speak to yourself in your head. Be kind to yourself.” ~Unknown

Giving yourself positive messages will grow your confidence and competence. 

Sharp Health News discussed the importance of positive self-talk. Here are a few pointers from them: 

  • Examine the external. Choose messages that positively influence your thinking and feeling.
  • Revisit your values. Recognize that you have the opportunity to break negative cycles by identifying and aligning your behaviors with the values you find most important.
  • Practice prioritizing yourself. The things you focus on—good or bad—will lead to the emotions you experience.

Sharp's three tips to positively influence your self-talk.

6. Have a foolproof opening

One effective technique is to open with a question. When you ask a question, it gives your audience something to think about and respond to. This will get your audience nodding in agreement with you. 

7. Be passionate and visualize your success

Nothing will boost your ego more than seeing yourself succeed. Instead of trying to get it done and barely scrape by, make it your personal goal to become a great fearless public speaker.

Listen to Sarah Palmer, Power Speaking, Inc. Director of Business Development, EMEA, as she talks with Michaela Jeffery-Morrison, CEO, Founder of the Women in Technology World Series at Ascend Global Media, about more strategies to use before addressing your next audience ...

 

 

What Tips and Strategies Do You Use Before Presenting? from PowerSpeaking on Vimeo.

Snippets from the video...

"Watching and learning from other speakers, composing oneself, and practice what you are going to say," Michaela Jeffery-Morrison, CEO, Founder of the Women in Technology World Series at Ascend Global Media."

 

"Realize your body responds in the same way whether you're nervous or excited, so tell yourself you are excited about the event," Sarah Palmer, Power Speaking, Inc. Director of Business Development, EMEA

Chapter 3

Exercises to Help You Relax, Control Your Breathing and Lead With Confidence

 

"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor."  Thich Nhat Hang, Zen Master, author, poet, and peace activist

 

1. Harness your breath

Breathing is essential in demonstrating confidence—and executive presence. Proper breathing is necessary to achieve your peak performance. 

The Harvard Medical School explains the impacts of shallow breathing patterns and the benefits of improved ones:

“Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange—the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”

The ability to harness your breath is one of the most important things to master if you want to become a confident speaker. 

So with that said, take deeper breaths to control your breathing.

2. Breathing control technique for relaxation 

A basic control technique to induce relaxation, focus, clarity, and calm is known as "box breathing."

  • Exhale to a count of four
  • Hold your lungs empty for a four-count 
  • Inhale to a count of four
  • Hold the air in your lungs for a count of four
  • Exhale and begin the pattern again

 

Here's a blog post with additional breathing techniques to reduce anxiety:

8 Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

3. Learn your vocal variety

Give your voice more power.

Ever nodded off while someone with a monotone voice droned on? The fact is, vocal variety keeps people interested and engaged. So, what do we mean by vocal variety?  

Know your soft voice versus your high-register voice. Vary your volume and cadence. The best way to use your voice to complement your message is by varying your pace, pitch, volume, and pauses to create interest and emphasize points.

Practice aligning these vocal variations with the content you are delivering. 

Here are more ways to utilize your voice...

 

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Chapter 4

Why Public Speaking is Critical for Successful Business

Managing that dreaded fear of public speaking translates into confidence, which in turn, will elevate different aspects of your life. By developing your public speaking abilities, you can advance your career, help grow your business, and form deeper, more productive relationships.  

Let's take a look at the benefits of improving your public speaking and communication skills in three areas: your career, your impact on the organization, and your community involvement...

Benefits to Your Career

Avoiding public speaking can, for many, become a roadblock to their career advancement. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Recent research has shown that business leaders see communication skills, including public speaking, to be among the most important skill sets employees can have to succeed, and to move the organization forward.

Regardless of where you are in your career, improving your communication skills will help you reach your goals. As a matter of fact, finding the confidence and ease to speak in public and communicate well with others becomes a personal strength if you work on it.

Benefits to Your Organization 

Your ability to speak and present well will add to your credibility—and, if you're also authentic, will build trust. And that means the company benefits as you successfully work with others to drive new ideas and critical projects forward.  

Whether or not you aspire to move into management, remember that “leadership” is marked by the ability to accomplish tasks while inspiring others to do the same. Your company can only benefit from people who employ excellent communication to lead the business forward. 

Benefits to Your Community

The benefits of public speaking are endless when it comes to community. Through public speaking, you and your community members can gain exposure and build the strong connections it takes to inspire change and get things done—whether it’s at your children’s school, for a local development initiative, or for a global action cause.

Closing Thoughts

Our lives, the workplace, and the world are better places when we choose to speak up, whether that means educating, inspiring, or voicing concerns. 

Are you ready to take the first step?

At Powerspeaking, we offer programs to get you over the hump and out of your own way.

Now I'd like to hear from you:

Which tip are you going to try first?

Are you going to finally figure out what really scares you?

Or maybe you want to try the breathing exercises?

Please let me know by leaving a comment below…

p.s. We have found that everyone has compelling personal and/or business stories to tell if they take a little while to reflect on their experiences. Sharing a few illuminating stories keeps it real and meaningful.

And in doing so, you might find yourself more at ease with your public speaking skills...

Join Us in Conversation . . .

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Mary Schafer

Mary Schafer

VP, Strategic Advisory Services, ADP

andia Ren

Sandia Ren

Chief Transformation Officer, Vitech Systems Group

Carrie Beckstrom

Carrie Beckstrom

CEO, PowerSpeaking, Inc.

About the Author

Carrie Beckstrom

Chief Executive Officer, PowerSpeaking, Inc.

CEO Carrie Beckstrom and the PowerSpeaking team are passionate about helping organizations—at corporations like Genentech, eBay, Autodesk, and Gilead Sciences—develop powerful communication skills that inspire people and get results.

Prior to joining PowerSpeaking, Carrie enjoyed more than 30 years’ experience in the learning and development industry, where she led teams that made Training Magazine’s “Training Top 125” 10 years in a row. Then, as now, she believes that “Our purpose is to make great people even greater at what they do every day.”

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