I regularly write on the fear of public speaking – what it is, how to deal with it, and why you should perhaps even welcome it – because it’s one of the universal experiences of people when they have to deliver a speech to a large, unfamiliar crowd or even give a presentation to a team of people they know very well. The act of standing up in front of other people to speak brings on the nerves because you feel exposed, and your brain starts cataloging all the ways the presentation could go horribly wrong.
Even seasoned performers from the entertainment industry experience stage fright – if that helps. You’re not alone. I’m always on the lookout for new ways to ease the fear, since so many people suffer from speaking anxiety. Here, I’ve rounded up five of the best new methods I’ve seen lately. Good luck. With each of them, practice helps, and more practice helps even more. If you really want to avoid the terror that goes with public speaking, you have to commit to doing the work. Just thinking about it won’t help.
1.Focus on your anxiety. This one may sound odd – won’t paying more attention to your fear just make it worse? But oddly enough, paying close attention to every aspect of your stage fright seems to help some people. Keep a journal – seriously. Note when you start getting nervous, what the symptoms are, precisely. When things peak for you. When you start to calm down. If you develop a close understanding of the arc of your fear, the next time it will be familiar, at least, and familiar things aren’t as scary.
2.Work on acceptance. When I first started doing a lot of cross-time-zone flying for work, I fretted a good deal about jet lag. I was tired! It was hard to focus! I was falling asleep at the wrong times! Over time I learned just to accept the idea that I was going to feel groggy at certain times. I wasn’t going to die; I would get through it. That kind of acceptance went a long way toward feeling better about the jet lag.
The same philosophy will help you deal with your stage fright. Work on accepting it. Sure, you’re going to feel uncomfortable. But you’re not going to die. You’re just going to feel uncomfortable for a little while, and then you’re going to feel better. The whole process is time-limited.
3.Control your thinking. This method is unusual, but some clients have reported good results trying it. What you do is confine all your worry to a specific period of time, say for 30 minutes the day before your speech. Or the morning of. During that 30 minutes, you’re going to worry as hard as you can. Every possible negative thought should be brought up, embraced, and then put away. Wallow in your misery, anxiety, and nerves. And then, when the 30 minutes is up, move on. Every time you get a nervous-making thought, say to yourself, “Been there, done that. Already thought about that. Not going back there.”
The idea is to train yourself to confine your catastrophic thinking to a specific period of time, and in that way contain it.
4.Get some (moderate) exercise. Several hours before your talk, go for a run (if you do that sort of thing) or a walk, or a relatively gentle workout in the gym. The idea is to do a lesser version of your normal routine. Just enough to work off some of the heebie-jeebies, but not enough to exhaust yourself. You want to have the strength to get through your talk, so don’t overdo it.
This technique works best for people who get some kind of regular exercise. Don’t try this one if you’re a couch potato, because the risk of overdoing it is too great. Your adrenaline will give you wings, and you’ll run the four-minute mile, but then you’ll be in a state of collapse instead of readiness.
5.Distract yourself. I’m a little anxious about this one, because I could see it backfiring, but I actually used it myself inadvertently once. I was due to give a speech in San Antonio, and I arrived late the night before, checking into the hotel about 10 pm. Unfortunately, my luggage didn’t arrive with me. It was lost somewhere in the continental US.
So the next morning, as soon as the stores opened, I was busy buying an outfit that was dignified enough to give a speech in. (I had neglected to follow a rule that I have ever since: put your speaking suit in your carryon.) It was a real rush to purchase everything, put it on, and dash over to the venue to speak.
I didn’t have time to be nervous. I was so focused on finding appropriate clothing that I didn’t think much about the speech until I was sitting at the front of the room being introduced. And then it was too late – I was standing up and saying “thank you” to my introducer and starting my speech, all in a blur.
Like I say, that last idea makes me a little uncomfortable because of the opportunities for disaster, but if you distract yourself with something harmless that won’t interfere with prep for the speech, then perhaps this technique could work.
Let me know if you try one of these – or already use them – and what results you get. And good luck!