Before you jump onstage or in front of the room to deliver an important presentation, do you experience physical or emotional symptoms like nausea, sweaty palms, anxiety, or feelings of panic? It may not be so extreme for you, but it happens to millions of people everywhere.
Ten years ago, I checked into the ER before one of my very first speaking engagements thinking I was having a heart attack. The electrocardiogram showed that my heart was as strong as ever. What had happened?
I had had a panic attack — a sudden, overwhelming surge of anxiety and fear that mimics a heart attack. Numerous speaking engagements later, I managed to learn how to control feelings that commonly led to speaking anxiety.
Nine Ways to Help Reduce Presentation Anxiety
Some people rank the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death! It is very real and can be debilitating. Even billionaire Warren Buffett admits that he was “terrified” of public speaking early in his career. He decided that to reach his full potential, he had to overcome his fear of it. If you are faced with a similar challenge, there are several techniques to help you overcome your fears.
David Greenberg, president and CEO of Simply Speaking and author of the bestseller Simply Speaking! The No-Sweat Way to Prepare and Deliver Presentations, isa foremost expert on this topic. He has been coaching and training leaders from top companies to transform their presentations since 1988.
Greenberg offers nine helpful strategies to eliminate presentation or “speech” anxiety.
1. Accept that being nervous is not a bad thing.
Greenberg says, “Being nervous means you care about giving a good presentation. Your nervousness produces adrenaline, which helps you think faster, speak more fluently, and add the needed enthusiasm to convey your message.”
2. Don’t try to be perfect.
Greenberg explains that the fear of public speaking often stems from a fear of imperfection. He urges us to “accept the fact that no one ever gets it perfect and neither will you.” Rather than striving to become a “super-speaker,” Greenberg’s simple advice is to just be yourself. “Your audience will appreciate it,” he says.
3. Know your subject matter.
One must “earn the right,” says Greenberg, to speak on a particular topic. “Become an authority on your topic and know more than most or all of the people in your audience. The more you know, the more confident you will be,” he says.
4. Engage your audience.
Audience involvement is key. Ask your audience questions or have them participate in an activity to hold their attention. Greenberg says that turning your presentation from monologue to dialogue helps reduce your nervousness and engages the audience.
Breathing from your stomach muscles, not your chest, calms the nervous system. Here’s what to do: Take a few deep breaths before and even during your presentation. “As you inhale,” says Greenberg, “say to yourself ‘I am,’ and as you exhale, say ‘relaxed.'”
6. Visualize your success.
Close your eyes and picture yourself delivering your talk with confidence and enthusiasm. What does the room look like? What do the people look like? How do you look? “Picture your successful presentation in detail and allow your mind to help turn your picture into a reality,” says Greenberg.
7. Practice out loud.
The best way to reduce your anxiety is to rehearse until you feel comfortable, advises Greenberg. “Practicing by yourself is important,” he says, “but I urge you to also practice in front of a friend, colleague, or coach who will give you honest and constructive feedback.”
8. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Caffeinated drinks can increase your heart rate, make you jittery, and cause your hands to shake, which gives your audience the impression you’re a nervous wreck. And, it goes without saying, drinking alcohol to cope with your fears will increase your chances of forgetting things and slurring your words.
9. Make eye contact.
Greenberg suggests arriving early when the room is full of empty chairs and practicing by “pretending that you are looking into people’s eyes.” When you begin your talk, pick a few friendly faces in different areas of the room. Says Greenberg, “Not only will the audience appreciate it, but also you will see that they are interested in your message. Add a smile and you are bound to see some in return.”
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