What do you feel when you imagine standing up in front of an audience?
Visualize the bright lights in your face, and see all those people looking at you and expecting you to deliver a top-notch performance.
Do butterflies start fluttering about in your stomach? Do your palms start to sweat? Does your head get light?
Leaders at all levels of organizations – from the bottom to the top – need to be good at giving speeches. This is a skill that becomes increasingly important as you grow in your career.
Yet, research shows the large role played by speech anxiety in blocking our ability to give great speeches. Fortunately, a few tips can go a long way to build up confidence and address fears around public speaking.
Research shows those given some tips and training in public speaking were able not only to improve their own communication, but they were also successfully taught others how to give better speeches. So, training in public speaking works, hands down.
The keys to overcoming fear are mental preparation and practice.
Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain!
Now, you are never going to get rid of it totally, but we can help you get rid of most of it:
Deal with the fear.
Recognize the first thing to do is to deal with the fear itself rather than focus on the speech.
Sure, some anxiety is useful. It gets adrenaline going and can give you energy and enthusiasm. Yet, beyond that limited amount, if you don't deal with the fear, you won't be able to give a great speech, no matter how hard you try.
This fear comes from your emotional self, not your rational self. It's not helpful for you to have fear to achieve your goal of giving a great speech, but your emotional self doesn't know that.
You need to use intentional thinking strategies to manage your emotions in order to reach your goals.
To address your fear, remember you are not unique in your fear. There would not be the extensive research on speech anxiety if you were.
Scientists even have a special term for this fear: glossophobia. Knowing this term exists and that it is a well-studied topic should relieve some fear for you.
Next, apply the science-based strategy of positive self-talk. Give yourself a pep talk and psyche yourself up.
You can do this in many different ways. Some people meditate, others pray, others listen to music and others go jogging.
There are many different ways to get your energy level high. Whatever works for you, do it. If you're not prepared mentally, you won't be prepared.
Besides positive self-talk, use positive thinking. If you want to be an effective public speaker, you have to believe in yourself.
If you do not believe in yourself, how do you expect other people to believe in you? Remind yourself that you know more about the topic than the audience does.
Now, you can expect a few people out there may be more knowledgeable. You are not going to know more than everybody does.
However, chances are, if you done your homework and picked a topic you know about, you will know more than most people in your audience.
Use your body.
Regardless of whether you use the strategies above, right before you get up to speak, you may get a little nervous. You have a lot of excess energy in there.
You do not want to get rid of all of it — and believe me, you will not — but you want to get rid of some of it. Try some "tense and relax" techniques.
Clench and relax your fists. Clench your fists really hard, and then release them.
Can you feel the tension leaving? It really works.
Some people get a lot of tension in their necks, if you do, try shoulder shrugs. Push your shoulders up to your ears, hold them there for 10 seconds and release.
A good overall tension reliever is stretching exercises. Do some deep knee bends, stretch your arms up, open your hands really wide and then close them.
All of these exercises are good ways to release some of that tension.
Practice the speech to gain more confidence in your ability. It is especially helpful to do so in the exact room where you will be giving the speech.
Get up in front of the room and try to envision what it is going to be like when you give my speech. This will help you feel more comfortable when you speak, and it will fill you with greater confidence.
If you can't practice in the room, try to use visualization, a research-based strategy widely employed by top athletes. Visualize what you know about the room and the audience, and imagine giving the speech.
See with your mind's eye everyone staring at you, listening with rapt attention. Imagine the applause breaking out after your speech, and your boss giving you a big thumbs up sign after you finished.
The sooner you get up in front of a group and you realize that you have something important to say, and you get out there and just do it, the sooner you will get rid of your fear. This follows the research-based exposure therapy approach to public speaking anxiety.
Sure, the first couple of times, you're going to be nervous, but you'll get over it. People will compliment you, and you will say, "Oh, really? I didn't think I did such a good job."
Remember to not judge your external environment by your emotional self's perceptions. You may feel nervous inside, but many times, on the outside, you appear more confident. This is where videotaping comes in handy.
Also, remember that "failure is an event, not a person." If you do not have a successful speech, there might be other factors that make be causing this besides you. It's not that we failed; it's the event that failed.
Speaking is a skill that grows weaker with disuse and stronger with practice. The secret to improving your speaking skills is practice.
Where can you get speaking opportunities? They exist all around us, like at work, in community groups and at a church.
You can also set up speaking engagements at various organizations like Fraternal Order of Police, Urban League, Community Action Agencies, Farm Bureaus, Rotary Clubs, Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis Club, Church Groups or League of Women Voters.
Theses are all great opportunities to practice. Also, check out books on public speaking, such as Patrick Donadio's Communicating with IMPACT.
Remember, your first speech is likely to be your worst speech, so you will keep getting better and less anxious going forward.