A great way to build your resilience skills is to learn to meet the challenge of your greatest fear. Did you know that many, many people fear public speaking more than death itself? If you’re one of those folks, here are some ideas that will help you become more comfortable whether you’re giving a speech in front of hundreds or are called on at a management meeting.
1. Discover if you are a Habituater or a Sensitizer.
Paul L. Witt, PhD, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, conducted a study which found that some people are just hard-wired to be anxious about public speaking. Others get nervous, but can overcome it. Find out which type you are and get some great hints for how to handle your anxiety here.
2. What’s the worst thing that can happen?
Most of us tend to catastrophize when we have to speak in public, telling ourselves that it would be just awful or horrible if something went wrong during our talk. Ask yourself these questions:
Have you ever seen someone else make a mistake or be nervous when they spoke in public? Did lightning strike? Did they have a heart attack and die? Or did they just keep talking?
What was the worst thing that ever happened to you when speaking in a public forum? Did lightning strike? If it felt just awful or horrible, does that mean your talk was also just awful or horrible? Probably not. Remember that emotions don’t always equate to reality!
3. Remember that your audience wants you to do well.
Most people who hate speaking in public are consumed with fear of being nervous and that their listeners will notice it. Remember these points:
Your audience wants you to do well. They are pulling for you and are certainly not sitting in judgment of your performance.
It’s likely that your listeners also hate speaking in public! So, they are quite sympathetic to any nerves you may display.
Most of the time, your audience doesn’t even notice that you are nervous. Have you ever told someone after you spoke in public that you were so nervous, only to have the person say, “Really? You didn’t look nervous.”
4. Have a sense of humor.
So, let’s say the worst thing happens. You get dry mouth. Your hands start to shake. You forget what you were going to say.
Make fun of yourself. “Hang on, I need to take a drink of water – my mouth is like the Sahara right now.”
“Wait a minute – I’m having a senior moment.” (If you’re old enough to be a senior.) “Wait a minute – I’m practicing to have senior moments.” (If you’re not quite a senior yet.)
Sharing your speaking process – and the quirks that come along with it – is a good way to both make the audience laugh and create a connection with them. They learn that you are a regular human being like them and your credibility is instantly increased.
I know, I know. You hear this all the time and it’s getting old. But, if there’s ever a time to remember to breathe, it’s when you are speaking in front of a group! It’s an automatic response to have shallow breaths when you are nervous. The problem is, this signals to your body that you are in a fight-or-flight situation so it starts pumping more adrenaline, which causes you to feel even more anxious . . .
Pausing during talks is a good practice at any time. It helps the audience to digest what you have just said and can put emphasis on an important point in your speech. Use the pause opportunity to take a few regular breaths and reduce your heart rate.
Takeaway points: If you can breathe, remember that your audience is on your side, realize that lighting doesn’t strike if you make a mistake, and add some humor to your talk, you’re well on your way to bouncing back from your fear of public speaking!
What helps you when you have to speak in public?
For more great resources about overcoming fear of public speaking, check out this article.