The fear of public speaking is real and lodges somewhere on a scale of annoying-to-debilitating for most people. I’ve posted many times on various ways to help with those jitters. The best way is rehearsal, because if you’re confident and you’ve practiced many times, then whatever level of fear you have will be more manageable. Also important is breathing from the belly, something I’ve talked about often. Belly breathing calms you down and does great things for your voice. And there are many other specific things you can do that I’ve detailed in a variety of posts over the years.
The fear comes (for most people) from the mental doom loop that starts up as soon as you get the assignment to speak. Then, it returns on a regular basis whenever you think about it, and with increasing frequency as you get closer to doomsday. And of course, on the day of, or maybe beginning the night before, you really start to get the heebie-jeebies.
What does that mental doom loop sound like? You begin to get a little nervous, and your mind notes the symptoms, and says to itself, “Whoops, my heart is racing, my hands are clammy, my knees are wobbly – it’s going to be a disaster!” That, of course, makes your physical symptoms worse, and soon you’re in a fine state. Depending on your level of anxiety, you may embroider that basic scene with additional self-dialogue, such as “Why did I ever agree to the talk? What was I thinking? I’ve never going to do this again! This could jeopardize my whole day/week/career!” If your boss is going to be in the audience, you might start a separate scene just for all the ways that could go wrong.
The frightened mind is astonishingly inventive, and it really goes to town in this scenario because you have a nice long time to get scared and to self-sabotage.
So what you need to do is to offer your terror a different script in order to distract it and replace it with a better story while your brain is distracted. Cut off the doom loop as it begins by chanting to yourself, “I’m going to be fine. I’ve rehearsed, I know my stuff, and the audience wants me to succeed.” Do this constantly, if necessary, and at least whenever a worry thought creeps into your mind. With practice, you’ll find your negative thoughts virtually disappear.
For an even better version, a team led by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan has found that you should talk about yourself in the second or third person. So, instead of saying, “I’m going to be fine,” it apparently makes a measurable difference if you say, “You’re going to be fine.” Or, “Nick is going to be fine.” For me this lacks the necessary punch and personal zest, but if you’re OK referring to yourself in the second or third person, go for it. Judges rated the people who used the second or third person self-talk as calmer, more confident, and better performers. What else do you need to get started? Apparently, these self-distancing self-talkers also felt less shame after the talk, so you can save on your psychiatry bills by using this technique.
Self-talk is the third most important way to mitigate stage fright after rehearsal and breathing, and now you know how “insert your name here” can do it best.