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Control your Public Speaking Anxiety

Imagine how easy life would be without any public speaking anxiety.  Can you imagine just swanning onto the stage with the effortless ease of Barrack Obama every time you were asked to speak?

Well, if you ever want to be that person, I have have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that even the most experienced speakers get nervous before a big speech.  It is natural to feel nerves before any important event and that will never go away.

However, the good news is you can learn to manage those nerves with the right mindset and training.  Instead of fearing nerves, you can start to use them to your advantage.

Quote about public speaking anxiety

The key to managing your fear of public speaking is to implement a system of learning, practice and planning.

Understanding fear

The first thing to understand about fear and nerves is it comes from from a place of uncertainty.

In general, humans just don’t like uncertainty.  We are hard-wired to keep ourselves safe from harm and when things become uncertain, this only increases the chance of something bad happening.

“Uncertainty can intensify how threatening a situation feels” says Ema Tanovic, a psychologist with the Boston Consulting Group in Philadelphia.

When you are asked to give a speech, this invites a lot of uncertainty.  You might be uncertain about the audience, uncertain if they will agree with you, or uncertain if you will perform as well as you practiced.  Most importantly, you might worry that you could embarrass yourself.

Nicholas Carleton, a psychology professor believes, the “unknown” represents one of humanity’s “fundamental fears” – perhaps even more important to our behaviour than our fear of death.

A 3 step plan to tackle public speaking anxiety

If uncertainty is the main driver of fear, you need a system that reduces uncertainty as much as possible.

Shift your mindset

The first unknown is whether you give a bad presentation.  It is easy to fall into the trap of worrying you will somehow fail.  Your brain will automatically ruminate about all the things that could happen to you: you could have a mind blank, you could embarrass yourself, or you could say the wrong thing.

The problem with all these thoughts are inward-facing.  You are only worrying about yourself.

Instead, try to focus your efforts on worrying about the audience.  Worry that they might not fully understand your message.

This shift from inwards-thinking to outwards-thinking will focus your efforts on helping the audience, instead of worrying about your own performance.

Speak Often

Another major cause of uncertainty is simply the limited opportunities you get practice in front of people.  Yes, practicing in front of a mirror can help. But it’s never the same as talking in front of real human beings.

Now, imagine if you were forced to give the same speech every day for the next year.  By day 365, I’m certain you would not be nervous about the speech anymore.  In fact, you would be bored of giving the same speech over and over again!

For the vast majority of us, we do not get to talk in front of people very often. So, we never get the chance to be desensitised to public speaking.

So, you need to seek out speaking opportunities anywhere you can.  Public speaking classes obviously help, but there are little opportunities every week.  Raise a point during a team meeting, put up your hand during a Q&A session, offer to give a colleague’s farewell speech.  Stop sitting on the sidelines waiting for other people to speak.

Create Contingency Plans

There are so many unknowns when it comes to public speaking.  We might not know the audience, we might be unfamiliar with the room, and we definitely can’t guarantee our IT will work.  Taken together, these can all build up into a very large feeling of apprehension that may be hard for us to get over.

While we can’t plan for everything, we can put contingency plans in place.

Are you worried about going blank? Then make sure you have a detailed set of notes you can refer back to.

Are you worried about PowerPoint not working? Then make sure you have a print-out of your slides to hand out.

By creating contingency plans, you will feel your apprehension go down.

What All of This Means for You

Fear always stems from the unknown.  So, put plans in place to reduce as much uncertainty as possible.

These 3 steps are all about taking back control:

* Take control of your topic.

* Get experience speaking in front of other people.

* Put in plans for anything that might go wrong.

We will never make apprehension go away, but we can find ways to deal with it. If we take the time before we give a speech to prepare by knowing our material, practicing speaking, and having plans in place then we’ll be ready on our big day.

The great news is that every speech that we give will provide us with even more tools to keep our apprehension under control.