The butterflies in your stomach. The sweat on your brow. The carefully written notes clenched in a shaking fist. The physical symptoms of public speaking anxiety can be just awful, and the mental symptoms are no better.
Do you feel anxious about speaking in public?
You are not alone. We’ve all heard that public speaking is the number one social fear here in Australia along with plenty of other places, too. When you are in the events business, this can become a real impediment to getting your job done. If you want to open yourself up to new career possibilities or just feel more comfortable at the mic, read on.
It is ok to feel anxious about speaking in public.
There are some really common fears that get entangled around these public performances. For some, the fear stems from being judged poorly by peers or bosses. For others it comes from a fear of making mistakes or embarrassing oneself. Perhaps the first thing to remember is that watching someone make a mistake is also terribly uncomfortable. Audiences are always cheering for the speaker and wishing them the best so that everyone can benefit from the experience. Take solace from the idea that the people listening want to be there and want to see you succeed.
Knowing that people are happy to listen is one thing, but tell that to your racing pulse, right? Let’s look at some ways you can reign in your anxiety on the day.
Deep breathing might sound like cliched advice but it’s actually one of the best strategies you can deploy before you go on stage. There’s a lot of hard science behind the fact that taking some slow deep breaths (bringing the air right down to your belly before breathing out) can signal to your brain that you are safe and can relax. Some people like to do it before stepping out, but there’s no harm in taking a steadying breath before speaking, either. Even experienced speakers will do this as it is so effective. If you feel unsteady during your speech, take another slow breath. It’s natural to pause during speeches, so do not feel self-conscious about doing it (especially if it’s the difference between making to the end or not).
If you can, plant a friend or supportive colleague in the audience. Seek out your friend’s face and speak only to them. Ask your friend to nod, smile and show general encouragement throughout your speech. Focusing on your colleague will help you to avoid being overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the positive reinforcement will give you courage to continue.
Get as familiar with the situation as you can before you go on stage. If you are part of the events team you may have access to the stage before the event takes place. Work out where you need to be before you are called up and when. It will help to reduce any adjacent anxiety about being in the right place at the right time. This also goes for practicing the speech out loud before the big event. You’ll notice any clumsy sentence structure or unnatural turns of phrase and have time to tweak the text before the show. Being familiar with the flow of the text will help you find your way as you speak.
To recap: familiarise yourself with the text beforehand, scope out the stage and where you’ll need to be, take some slow deep breaths before and during the speech, and keep an eye out for a supportive face. Using these strategies will help make your next public speaking engagement a lot more comfortable.
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