Anxious presenters know exactly how it feels preparing for an important presentation coming up at work. Many of the symptoms of presentation and public speaking anxiety are the same as those a large number of us experience across other common areas of our lives. Approaching a member of the opposite sex to ask them out on a date, going for a job interview, taking your driving test; its not easy.
The shortness of breath, sweaty palms, dry mouth, nervous stomach and wobbly legs are just a handful of physical symptoms that can affect our performance.
If you live with public speaking anxiety, you may worry weeks or months in advance of a speech or presentation.
Whether its preparing for asking your boss for a raise or a business presentation that makes you anxious, it’s important to remember that it’s our thoughts that dictate the way we feel.
We become what we think about and so does our presentation
Your partner is late home from work. You knew they were going for a quick celebratory birthday drink with a colleague at work but now it’s getting really late. You are worried and anxious, because you fear the worst; they have been attacked on the way home from the station, had too much to drink and stepped out into the middle of the road. Your anxiety becomes heightened even further by your thoughts that perhaps the reason for their absence is an affair. Your mind has made a quantum leap from a frenzied attack to a sordid affair, how did that happen?
The more you play those thoughts in your head the more vivid you make the image and the more real the movie becomes. Now you’re upset and its completely unfounded because the only reason they are late is because they stopped for something to eat on the way home and their battery was dead on their mobile phone so couldn’t ring home.
What movie do you play over and over again in your mind when it’s time to give an important presentation that causes your mouth to turn dry, butterflies to dance the tango in your stomach and that feeling of panic and dread?
If you suffer from any of these symptoms then your anxiety is related to your thinking.
The racing heartbeat and galloping stomach are nothing to do with the ‘real’ world but a perceived world you have created in your own mind; and its completely normal.
It’s likely that your thoughts are related to some of the following:
I’ll make a fool of myself
They won’t like me
I’ll forget my words
I’ll drop my notes
They’ll think I’m boring
Being told to stop being so cowardly and to just change your thoughts would be like telling someone who has a terrifying fear of flying to pull themselves together at 40,000 feet whilst being pelted around in their seat by turbulence. It’s futile!
Here’s what I will tell you instead to control those nerves and turn them into your ally rather than your persecutor.
Be prepared – Practice, practice, and practice some more. I don’t mean memorize, memorize and memorize, I mean get to know your material; internalize your message. Rehearse in front of the mirror, friends, family or even next doors dog, just know your stuff. The more mindfully prepared you are the less anxious you will feel.
Breathe – Allow yourself the time and space to improve the flow of oxygen to your brain to help you think more clearly. It’s impossible to hold more than one thought at a time so if your thought is focused on your breath then you will instantly begin to feel more calm and relaxed.
Don’t be selfish – Stop focusing on yourself for a moment and think about your audience. Think about what they need and how you can help them instead. Don’t focus on whether your audience can hear you stuttering or can see the red blotches on your neck, think about how you can give them what they need.
Play to your strengths – If you have a gift for telling stories then use it, or a talent for engaging through eye contact do that; if you know you can make people laugh then make them laugh or if you simply have a strong clear voice then use that to your advantage. Find your strength and play to it, just make sure you don’t overdo it!
Be a number – Imagine confidence on a scale of one to ten with one representing the lowest level of confidence and ten the highest. Hold a high number of your choosing in your mind and choose to be that number whilst you speak. An eight will serve most people well and even though we are not actors we all subconsciously know how to be an eight; we just have to hold that number and image in our mind as a level of confidence.
Play a movie you like – Before you present, picture yourself in your mind presenting as you want. Imagine yourself standing there speaking fluently with your audience smiling being really supportive. If that’s too difficult then at least imagine yourself lying on the beach, doing something you love or perhaps that incredible moment you passed your driving test; remember how it felt. Change your thoughts and you’ll change your emotional state.
Get perspective – Remember you probably know more about your subject than anyone in your audience so take comfort in that. If you don’t, then remember you have been asked to present for good reason; they could just have easily asked someone else but they chose you.
Watch your language – Watch out for negative self- talk and replace it with positive thoughts about how good you really are and all that you have achieved in the past. Don’t beat yourself up in your mind; be kind and gentle with yourself, use words of encouragement.
Learn from the best – Model yourself on excellence. Watch TED talks (https://www.ted.com/) and https://www.youtube.com/ videos of some of your favourite presenters. Take on board what you admire the most and adapt what you like to suit your personality and style in a way that will work for you.
Move -Try not to stand as though your feet are nailed to the floor, use your energy and own the platform. Stand tall and straight with your feet shoulders or hip width apart; feel your feet connected to the ground you are standing on. Move around with purpose, not just for the sake of it.
Own the stage -The whole stage is yours, so show your audience that by owning it. If you have a flip chart be sure to move it to a position that suits you, if there is a screen then touch the screen, move the laptop, tables or chairs wherever you want them to show them it’s all yours.
Look the part – Dress for confidence. If you look good it’s highly likely you will feel good too.
Smile – Smiling makes you look more attractive, it’s contagious, will make you feel good and make other people feel good too.
Finally, always remember:
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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You really can have public speaking anxiety and still give a great speech and following these tips will go a long way to helping you. If you need further support then consider working with a presentation coach who specialises in Mindful Presenting who will help you to speak with confidence clarity and purpose.
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