Many years ago, I was to give a talk in front of over two hundred people. As it came closer to my turn to speak, I could feel my anxiety building. Will I forget my speech? Will I make a fool of myself? My heart rate increased, my breathing became shallow, my mouth became dry, I felt a queasiness in the stomach. Was I going to have a heart attack? I closed my eyes and thought, “I can’t do this!” But I knew that if I walked out I would never return; my life would never be the same. I had to learn to overcome the fear of public speaking.
When confronted with a fearful situation we all respond the same way – our fight or flight mechanism kicks in. We can experience the same physical symptoms: shallow breathing, dry mouth, upset stomach, and sweaty palms.
It is very common for both experienced and beginning speakers to be nervous about giving a speech. The fear of making a fool of ourselves can cause us to exhibit some nervous symptoms, which can make our fear a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How do you change our perception that public speaking is a fearful situation and turn this nervous energy into a positive force for effective speechmaking?
The first thing to realize is that the audience wants us to succeed! They are giving up their time to listen to us so they have a vested interest in seeing us perform well. It is no longer a case of them versus us; knowing the audience wants us to succeed also takes the pressure off the need to be perfect.
Secondly, we can use a four-step process to help us perform at our best…
PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION
Nothing causes more nerves that a lack of preparation! Confidence comes from knowing you are fully prepared; that you know your material. Your energy is confidently focused on the audience instead of feeling the internal conflict of what to say next. And the audience can sense the difference. You will come across as either a confident presenter or a nervous presenter lacking credibility. Know your material so that even if there are interjections, audience questions, equipment failure, or if your presentation goes off on an unexpected tangent, you don’t become flustered but can still deliver all the information that you had planned.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
The more you speak in front of an audience the less daunting it will become. Not only will your confidence grow, but you will start to enjoy public speaking. This is one of the reasons I always recommend Toastmasters; to have your presentation structure and delivery evaluated so you feel confident that you will perform at your best. Practicing and getting constructive feedback is the best way to develop your skills and confidence.
Use thought processes such as creative visualization and affirmations to achieve the positive results you desire. Visualize giving a successful presentation using all of your senses: hearing applause as you are being introduced, seeing yourself delivering a dynamic presentation, hearing the audience’s enthusiastic applause at the end, and feeling pleased with your performance. Use positive affirmations such as, “I am a confident and dynamic speaker” can also help you get into a positive state of mind.
Before going on stage, use a relaxation technique to help rid the body of any stress you may have. Contract and release muscles while holding and releasing a few deep breaths can help relax the body and release any nervous energy.
You can use these techniques to help prepare for any speaking engagement. You may still get nervous but by using these techniques you can get those butterflies to fly in formation so that you can speak with confidence and enthusiasm.
~ Tom Wilde is a member of Alpha Toastmasters Club
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