Do you have a fear of public speaking? Does the thought of public speaking make you want to cry out in terror? Does it give you the nervous farts? Would you rather cut off your own limb with a butter knife?
Don’t worry, friend, you’re in good company. The percentage of people who suffer from a fear of public speaking greatly varies, but it’s anywhere between 25% – 75%.
Are you one of the people included in that statistic? Before I became a corporate dropout, one of my biggest complaints about work was having to present in meetings.
Instead, I’d attempt to see if I could send any requested information via e-mail and hope it would suffice. If I couldn’t find a way out, I’d have mini panic attacks leading up until the day of the presentation.
Why public speaking is important
- In 2014, a survey of more than 600 employers found that oral communication was the number one skill sought by recruiters. Presentation skills came in at number four.
- An online survey of 2,031 US workers found that 12% would let someone else give a presentation, even if it lost them respect at work. For the respondents who do give presentations, almost 70% agreed it was critical to their success at work.
Hold a cup of hot water or tea
Warm liquids, which has proven to help settle the nervous system, also help to reduce physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
I get nervous not only presenting in front of a live audience but also speaking on conference calls. The jitters and shaky voice are in full effect.
I’ve found that drinking a cup of hot tea, or even just holding a cup of hot tea or hot water, has the ability to bring warmth and comfort. 5 minutes before a conference call, I’d run to the break room and make a quick cup of hot tea. I’d wrap my hands around the mug and let it warm my hands.
You’ll be surprised how fast this works. This is a quick and easy way to bring a sense of comfort and calm on short notice.
Call your mom
Our moms generally think that we walk on water and can do no wrong. In our mom’s eyes, we’re the smartest and prettiest lady in the room. So why not call your mom for a pre-presentation pep talk?
A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that participants exposed to a stressful situation showed a significant decrease in stress hormones and an increase of oxytocin (responsible for happiness) once they spoke to their mothers on the phone.
Focus on a picture of a confident person who inspires you
Focusing on a picture of someone who exudes confidence is another way to help squash anxiety when you’re preparing for your presentation. For me, this person is usually either Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey. If I was going to present on a conference call, I’d put up a picture of Oprah on my desktop. If I was presenting in person, I’d carry a small picture of Michelle Obama in my notebook and glance at it whenever I felt nervous.
Even the best public speakers admit to feeling anxious before they go on stage. This reminds me that my nervousness is not unique, and if these celebrities can overcome their nerves and still give great speeches or presentations, then so can I.
Go for a run or a walk
One of the symptoms of anxiety is feeling a rush of nervous energy. With no outlet, this gives us an increased heart rate and jitters. Instead of sitting around feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack, go for a quick walk or run to release the energy and calm you down.
Instead of sitting around feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack, go for a quick walk or run to release the energy. You’ll come back feeling calmer, and more in control.
When we feel anxious, we have a tendency to match our breathing with our heart rate. Chaotic, right?
What we should be doing is taking a deep breath in, holding for 4 seconds, and then exhaling for 4 seconds. Rinse and repeat.
No one knows that you’re doing a breathing exercise, and it can be very effective if you’re in a pinch.
Remember: Most people aren’t paying attention to you anyway
It may sound harsh, but at least for the majority of people in an audience, this is true.
Think about how many times you’ve been in a meeting or sat in an auditorium listening to a lecture. How often are you actively listening to the speaker? How often has your mind taken you down a rabbit hole of random thoughts? I’m going to guess that it’s fairly often.
I always have to remind myself that most people in my audience are not hanging on to my every word. They’re lost in a world of their own thought, and just want me to finish up so they can go on with their day.
Try not to take yourself too seriously and remember, most people aren’t paying attention anyway.
A guided meditation that consistently brings me a sense of calm is the breathscape and bodyscape guided meditation by John Kabat-Zinn.
This relaxing meditation is only 20 minutes. It’s perfect not just for public speaking but really any situation that causes anxiety.
Throw on some headphones and let it work some magic.
Beta blockers are pills that subdue the physical symptoms associated with fear of public speaking. Common symptoms include an increased heart rate, shaking, and turning red.
I wish I’d known about beta blockers many years ago. It would have helped me get past my fear of public speaking tremendously.
When I broke it down, I found that my fear of speaking in public was not necessarily the act of speaking itself. I was actually more fearful of the physical symptoms that happened to me right before it was my turn to speak.
The worst part for me was the increased heart rate and hyperventilating. I was so convinced that people could see my heart jumping out of my chest! I’d constantly have to stop and catch my breath as if I had just finished running a marathon.
After speaking to my psychiatrist about the symptoms I was experiencing, he prescribed a beta blocker. I don’t take beta blockers every time I speak to a large group, but occasionally I’ll use it in conjunction with other methods, such as the hot tea trick.
For me, beta blockers are a godsend. I think it’s worth looking into if public speaking is something that you are required to do on a semi-regular basis, and you’ve not had success with other methods to reduce anxiety.
Use humor and be honest
In her book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Shonda Rhimes writes about her year of saying yes to everything that scares her.
Despite being terrified of public speaking, Rhimes agrees to the give the commencement speech at Dartmouth, her alma mater. She describes the fear and panic of having to speak in front of a such a large audience. One method she used to help lower her anxiety was to be transparent with the audience by letting them know she was nervous.
In general, I do not like giving speeches. Giving a speech requires standing in front of large groups of people while they look at you and it also requires talking. I can do the standing part OK. But the you looking and the me talking … I am not a fan. I get this overwhelming feeling of fear. Terror, really. Dry mouth, heart beats superfast, everything gets a little bit slow motion. Like I might pass out. Or die. Or poop my pants or something. I mean, don’t worry. I’m not going to pass out or die or poop my pants. Mainly because just by telling you that it could happen, I have somehow neutralized it as an option.” – Shonda Rimes, Dartmouth commencement speech.
Putting it all on the table with a sense of humor helps lighten the mood and takes some of the pressure away. Your audience will probably appreciate your straight talk.
FYI: Shonda’s full commencement speech is impressive. If you have the time, you should watch it.
Public speaking isn’t easy for most people. Just remember, even the best public speakers admit to getting nervous prior to giving a speech. Be gentle with yourself realize that even if you poop your pants, it won’t be the end of the world.
What tricks or methods do you use to reduce anxiety?
This post was proofread by Grammarly