Glossophobia. It actually has a name. The fear of speaking in public. A fear that an estimated 75 per cent of us suffer from.
I remember one time I was so nervous about public speaking that I couldn’t stop shaking. I was invited to be a live guest on a Danish national radio station to talk about one of my hobbies – cars (…it is true!).
Just before the show aired I was sitting in this tiny room with the host and another guest; the editor of Denmark’s biggest car publication and I was almost completely engulfed in a pair of huge headphones. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and my voice trembling. I couldn’t get my thoughts away from the fact that God-knows how many people listened. “Please don’t screw up, please don’t screw up, please don’t screw up” kept ringing in my head.
Since then I’ve wondered what it is about public speaking that it so scary?
Our primal fear of rejection kicks in
I researched it and discovered several reasons where the main one seems to be a primal fear of rejection. Fear comes from the part of the brain that is constantly scanning our surroundings looking for threats to make sure that we survive. Prehistorically the chances of surviving was equal to being part of a group and our chances of making it if got kicked out were pretty slim.
Today it translates into a fear of not being acknowledged by the audience we are going to speak in front of. So even though we (usually ;)) don’t die from speaking in public the brain still asses the situation as dangerous and wants us to be alert. Hence the increased heart rate and sweating.
What to do about it: My 6 best tips
But what to do about it then? Over the past years I have improved my public speaking significantly by researching and using different techniques I am happy to share with you.
Here are some of the tips that have worked for me…
- Prepare, prepare, prepare
Preparation is probably my most important tip. The more prepared I am the more in control I find myself to be. I also never just prepare by rehearsing my own presentations or statements, but I am also taking the time to learn from the best. The best public speakers were not always good. They became good and therefore we should study them to learn. Check out this piece on Barack Obamas public speaking abilities.
And last but not least – practice! Again and again and again… It doesn’t matter how many times your poor dog has to listen to your presentation. Do it out loud.
- Embrace your fears; don’t fight them
I have the most amazing psychologist. He has taught me so much that I hardly know where to begin. One of the most important things I’ve learned though, is that unpleasant feelings should be embraced – not fought. They only grow bigger if we try to ignore, suppress or ridicule the feelings of anxiety, nervousness and guilt. So whenever I feel nervous or anxious about speaking in public; I tell myself that it is okay! Because it really is…
- Take deep breaths
Whether it is before or during a presentation deep breaths work wonders when you are nervous. They will immediately slow down your heart and breathing rate and decrease your blood pressure. Mark Twain once said; “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause” Why not use that pause to discretely take a deep breath?
- Focus on your audience: What is in it for them?
What we basically fear the most about public speaking is the reaction and possible rejection of our audience. The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to focus on what we as presenters can offer. What will be of interest to them? Present that in a professional yet entertaining and enthusiastic way. If you want some tips I really love these from LifeHack: 18 Tips for Killer Presentations.
- What is the worst case scenario?
I always try to remind myself what is the worst thing that could possibly happen? That I am going to fail? That they will think I am an idiot? Even if any of it did happen, so what? This is the perfect situation to work on your growth mindset. Use what ever happens as a learning experience for next time.
- Find your excitement
Find your enthusiasm about the subject you are speaking about. Yes, I know – spreadsheets don’t always ooze passion, but I dare to say that there will always be something interesting about whatever topic you are presenting. And the biggest advantage: It doesn’t just help you – it also makes it far more interesting for those who listen.