Seven Tips to Help You Master Your Public Speaking Anxiety!

It is completely natural to feel anxious before you speak.  Why would you feel relaxed!? It can be nerve-racking to speak in front of people.  We get in trouble when we fight our anxiety rather than accept it.  Here are a few tips to help you control your public speaking tension:

  1. Develop a routine of doing some progressive relaxation each day.  Take a few moments each day to close your eyes, and scan through your body noticing physical tension.  Just notice.  Start at your scalp and move to your toes.  You may find simply bringing attention in a non-judgemental way to your physical tension helps relieve it.
  2. Try to reframe your anxiety rather than eliminate it.  Anxiety cannot be forced away, but if we accept it is happening, we can redirect it.  As anxious feelings arise, try telling yourself “I feel scared, but also excited.  This is an opportunity to work on presenting.”  The more you can label your fear as excitement, the better off you will be.
  3. If you are speaking to a large audience, see the trees for the forest!  By this, I mean learn to speak to one person in the crowd at a time.  This may help you to see the audience as individuals, rather than a large group, and lessen your stress.
  4. Consider using an icebreaker.  A good icebreaker could be an interesting question, an informal poll, a well-timed joke, or a short story.  
  5. Make small talk with your audience before you speak – idle chit-chat is a wonderful speaking tool.  If your audience is small, shake hands with some folks, and ask some meaningful questions before you present.  Getting to know the audience personally will turn your SPEECH into a DISCUSSION.  A  discussion is infinitely more relaxing than a speech.
  6. Slow your rate of speech down, especially at the top of the speech.  Take plenty of time to breathe, and clarify your thoughts.
  7. Prepare thoroughly! If you know your audience and your subject inside and out, you will feel much more relaxed about presenting! Bear in mind, it’s ok to have notes in front of you as you speak.

A Speech Coach’s Big Secret

A few days ago, I taught a big presentation skills workshop for a large advertising agency in New York City.  As I got through the section on sales pitches, and started moving toward accent reduction, I felt my hands shake a bit.  I could feel my breath shorten.  I could sense the eyeballs on me.  “I’m a speech coach!”, I thought, “I can’t get nervous.”

Well, guess what? I did.  I took an awkward pause, pretended my throat was dry, took a sip of water, and then resumed.  I stumbled on a word or two, but overall I was able to ace the job.

I still wonder if some folks noticed I was anxious.  I assume they did.  The truth is being a speech coach doesn’t exempt me from suffering from the same issues my clients face while presenting.  Everyone feels anxious before they speak, or while they speak.  The question is what do we do about it?

For me, it depends on whether I am at the beginning, middle or end of my speech.  If it is the moment before I am about to speak, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that the speech is not about me, but rather, about the people I am speaking to.  I put my attention on them.  I think, “How can I help?”.  If I am in the middle of the speech and I feel anxious, the first thing I do is think, “don’t fight it”.  My years of being a speech coach have taught me that anxiety, if properly directed, can be a powerful tool.  It can energize your speech.  I usually think to myself “I’m excited to present” and the nerves disappear.  I also give myself permission to take a break, stop speaking, and allow for silence.  Silence is powerful when it is embraced.

You should consider what type of person you are when deciding how to manage your speaking anxiety.  Some people are naturally confident, and need only to reassure themselves to feel better.  Other people tend to chronically doubt themselves.  If you are of the latter, trying to reassure yourself will backfire.  It will put you in conflict with your thoughts.  Try agreeing with your doubts, without believing them.  By saying to yourself, “yes I am thinking that I am going to blow this, fine”, you can then move on, and focus on the task at hand.  Again, you don’t have to believe the thoughts; you just need to acknowledge them.

So take it from a guy who knows, it is possible to manage your speaking anxiety.  You just need to know what type of person you are, and what tools you would like to use.


Power Posing and Presenting

As a public speaking coach I talk a lot about how non-verbal communication impacts a speaker’s audience.  But can powerful non-verbal communication make you feel more confident while speaking?  The short answer is yes.

Amy Cuddy’s TED talk above demonstrates how certain poses influence the way we feel.  Wide or open gestures tend to boost our testosterone and our endorphins, while closed gestures tend to increase cortisol levels (stress hormones) in our body.  This is good news for those of you that feel uncomfortable presenting.  By taking a “fake it until you make it” approach, you can learn to develop more confidence.  Check out the video above, and try some of the 2 minute “posing” exercises before you speak.  Research suggests that over a period of time you will gain more confidence, and lower your public speaking anxiety.

Michael Bay’s Public Speaking Panic Attack

Michael Bay recently had a very public public speaking meltdown at a Samsung event. There are a few things we can learn from his missteps. Here’s my take:

1) Pace Yourself – Mr. Bay doesn’t take the time to stop and connect with the audience at the beginning of his presentation. He doesn’t breathe. He just rushes right into his speech. No good. Make sure you take your time, and make eye contact with the audience, especially at the top of your speech.

2) Don’t Shill if You Don’t Want To – I would guess that Mr. Bay was uncomfortable with the promotional aspect of this event, and perhaps felt conflicted about the wording he was forced to read from the teleprompter (most likely scripted by Samsung). If you don’t feel truly connected to your material, you double your chance of panicking. It’s imperative to believe in what you are saying.

3) Know your Pitch if You Choose to Shill – If you are asked to use specific wording for an event, and you are comfortable with the phrasing, write the text down on your phone, and keep it on you while you speak. Don’t just trust the teleprompter because it will break (as it did in Mr. Bay’s case). It’s OK to read from your phone if you have to, and it beats the hell out of blanking.

4) Rehearse –  Don’t walk onstage for a big event without going through your bullet points numerous times. It’s a recipe for disaster. Get a coach. Review your speech with a friend. You will be happy you did!


How to Reduce Public Speaking Anxiety

When you give a speech or presentation does your heart beat like a drum and your hands shake? Feel embarrassed when you pick up a glass of water because you make the liquid shake like a tsunami? Do your teeth chatter like you’re at the North Pole? You’re not alone. Glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) affects up to 75% of the population to one degree or another, and is said to be a fear greater than death itself! As Jerry Seinfeld once said, at a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

So what do we do with this fear? Begin with acceptance, and adjust your expectations. Nobody is perfectly relaxed when speaking in front of people; it’s natural to feel anxious before a speaking event, so expect it. Keeping your expectations reasonable will help alleviate your anxiety.

Next, try some progressive relaxation exercises leading up to your speaking event. Sit in a chair with your back aligned and your eyes shut. Begin the exercise by simply noticing your breath for a few moments. Then imagine that you are breathing into different muscle groups, beginning with your scalp, and working your way down to your feet. Make sure to breath into your eyes, your shoulders, etc. Don’t try too hard to relax, that will defeat the purpose. Try to focus on the process and not the result. If you still feel tense afterwards, that’s ok, continue working on the exercise daily. In time you might find your body and mind settling.

Good luck, and contact me if you’d like to work further on your presentation skills.