Be Happy, Feel Beautiful
Public speaking anxiety is a common problem that can strike in any kind of setting, whether you are speaking to a classroom full of familiar faces, a packed auditorium, or even just a few people. Though public speaking can feel like an invincible and unavoidable nemesis, there are a number of ways to manage your anxiety. Read on to learn four basic steps anyone can take to become more comfortable with public speaking.
The good news? You’re not alone, and because just about everyone suffers from at least some degree of public speaking anxiety at some point in their lives, a number of methods have been developed to manage this common fear. The bad news, aside from the fact that most of us are forced to speak publicly several times over the course of our lives, is that overcoming public speaking anxiety is not an overnight fix. Overcoming any fear is a process, and progress can feel slow, leading to disappointment and despair and the feeling that you’ll never succeed. But with patience, perseverance and practice, even the biggest phobic can take the following basic steps toward managing public speaking anxiety.
Set the bar low
Expectations can be a killer. If you fear public speaking, you can be pretty sure that your fear won’t disappear entirely by your next presentation, no matter how prepared you are. If you set the bar too high for yourself, you are bound to give your mind more negative thoughts to work against you if you do end up feeling anxious during your public speaking event. Those of us who are really terrified of public speaking can start with the lowest possible expectation: surviving through the event. Despite the fear, chances are good that the event will not literally kill you. You might even end up feeling good about yourself.
Here’s a trick applicable to most things even beyond public speaking: positive thinking is powerful. When fears are involved, your thoughts can often work against you, filling your head with negativity and self-defeating talk. No matter how tempting it may be, resist the urge to put yourself down, even if it is only in your thoughts. It’s easy to see how damaging negativity can be when directed at others, but too often we fail to notice that the same applies to negativity we direct toward ourselves, too. So instead of telling yourself how bad you are at public speaking and how terribly you are going to fail, focus on positive things. Remind yourself that you are learning to manage your anxiety, and that you can make progress. Visualize yourself delivering your speech successfully, and think of how good you will feel after the event is over. Even if you do make mistakes, know that it’s not the end of the world, and that no one is going to remember it.
Practice and prepare
Many who fear public speaking would rather ignore the looming event as much as possible, procrastinating and failing to practice in an effort to put the dreaded speech out of their minds. But preparedness really does help. A well-written speech or presentation eliminates the possibility of confusing language, typos or organization issues, and familiarity with the material helps tremendously when you stand in front of your audience experiencing varying degrees of anxiety. Knowing your material also helps if you lose your place and allows your speech to flow more naturally than if you read word-by-word from the paper. Preparedness also boosts your confidence, giving you one less thing to worry about during your public speech event. But after all that preparation, be sure to practice. Try presenting your material to someone you trust who supports you. Even reading it out loud with no one to hear can make you feel more comfortable to start. And all the while, remember to think positive.
Slow down and breathe
Learning to manage public speaking anxiety does not end with the preparation stages. There are a number of things you can do before and during your speech to help you feel more comfortable. First, to feel more relaxed, dress as comfortably as the situation allows. But also choose clothing that you love and feel great in. If you like the way you look, that confidence will radiate from you. As you are waiting to speak, try not to think too hard. If you have prepared well for the event, there is no need to think about it any further. Instead, breathe deeply and calmly and try to focus on other things. Look at the people and things around you. Listen in on conversations – or better yet, engage in one yourself, if possible. But be careful not to criticize yourself, either to others or in your own head. If you find your thoughts drifting irresistibly toward your upcoming speech, stick to positive, encouraging thoughts. During your speech, make a point of telling your body to relax, maintaining a good, comfortable posture and releasing any muscles that may be tightening. Slow down your speech, and don’t forget to breathe. Try to focus on the material, not the anxiety you are feeling. If you lose your place or otherwise need to take a moment, take one. Look at your audience and try to find either a friendly face or an indifferent one, perhaps someone who is not even looking at you. Their calmness can be contagious. After the speech, give yourself credit, no matter how silly it may feel. Acknowledge the fact that you made it, and feel free to reward yourself.
Although learning to overcome public speaking anxiety can be a challenge, these basic steps will aid you along the way. The important thing is to not give up. Not all of us will ever grow to love public speaking, or even reach the seemingly effortless level of comfort some others seem to have with it. Regardless, anyone can make progress. As you continue on your path to overcoming anxiety, keep in mind that the only person you need to compare your progress to is you. And with perseverance and these four steps, you are already well on your way.