The fear of public speaking or “glossophobia” is the most commonly shared fear amongst people. Some experts believe 75% of us fear public speaking more than anything, even more than snakes. How do we overcome and become good at public speaking?
Our fear triggers an entire system that sets the body into fight or flight response. Symptoms include: Increased heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, difficulty breathing, headache, etc. How are we expected to even speak let alone deliver a great speech? All eyes focused on our every move and all ears listening for every word, searching for mistakes and likely silently criticising us. What if we make a mistake? The embarrassment and shame. How can we face these people again?
Even after almost two decades in a professional career and being an executive, I still have fear of public speaking and presentations. I would prepare and prepare for weeks ahead if possible and go through the presentation dozens of times. But still, when stepping on that stage and delivering the actual presentation my nerves get the best of me. I have tried everything; read books, watched training videos, TED Talks, attended seminars and even had private coaching – nothing really works. However, the past year I have found a secret formula and it seemed to have worked.
Awareness: Some teachings have suggested looking at yourself in the mirror while rehearsing. This is a terrible idea. Most of us are already self-conscious as it is, looking at yourself in the mirror only distracts you from the main objective; good speaking. The mirror only makes us more aware of our physical features and nuances which then makes us feel even more self-conscious and affects our confidence. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings instead. Picture yourself on stage giving the speech and you will feel all the sensations of fear. Take a mental note of that feeling, recognise it; and nothing else. Just be aware of that feeling. Do it over and over again. You will soon be able to recognise that feeling even before it comes on.
Breathe: During the epic 2016 US OPEN Tennis quarterfinals match between No.6 ranked Nishikori and No.2 Murray we saw how important “breathing” was in determining the outcome. Murray was clearly the more talented and more accomplished player, dominating the match and well on his way to an easy victory. Nishikori, on the other hand, was a good player but was limited by his nerves; he was playing very tentatively and tight. Then something changed. Nishikori began to perform controlled breathing in between points. This small action changed the outcome as Nishikori became more relaxed and began to play up to his potential. Murray became more and more frustrated and eventually conceded defeat. As you become aware of your fears in step 1, conduct controlled breathing each time you feel anxiety. Counter-balance this with deep, slow in-breath, hold for 4 secs, slowly out 4 secs. The more you do this during your mental preparations and rehearsals the calmer you will feel each time you feel nervous. This will help you stay calm when your fear is triggered.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Nothing beats the real thing. Stand in front of a public crowd in a park, in a mall, or on the empty stage in which you will be presenting and practice. Do it over and over and over again. There is no substitute for practice. The key to an effective practice session is to take it seriously. Meaning that you should think of this practice as the real thing. Get used to messing up and stumbling through it. This will teach you to become good at improv and be okay with not being perfect. You will also find yourself not dwelling in self-sabotage when you mess up as you learn to recover quickly. With practice, you will gain confidence.
These three steps are designed to give you two main attributes that make for a great public speaker: Calm and Confidence. Good luck!
Neo B. Concio, Author: “The Millionaire Employee: Simple Steps to Freedom”