5 ways to take the anxiety out of public speaking

Let’s start with the facts of life – people do and always will get anxious before addressing live audiences with speeches and presentations.

There was a period in my life when I was doing so much public speaking I literally felt zero anxiety for the task, and I think the unfortunate result was that I lost my edge.

Anxiety focuses and sharpens the mind. The surge of sensory overload is part and parcel of public performance and can be put to productive use if you adopt the proper mindset and adequately prepare for your time in the spotlight.

Come unprepared and the glare of the audience’s eyes will sear you to a crisp. Craft a sound structure and rehearse vigorously, and presenter and audience enter a mind merge.

Here are five tips for eliminating paralytic levels of stage fright.

  1. Develop a simple structure for your speech or presentation. The simpler your message and structure, the more confidence you’ll have in your ability to effectively deliver it. Besides, if your message isn’t simple the probability is high that your audience won’t understand the point. If they walk away confused, you’ve failed.
  2. Write a strong lead. Move the most interesting thing you have to say to the beginning of your script. There’s nothing like getting off to a strong start. Confidence soars and anxiety shrinks when we feel we’ve taken control of the situation. For that reason, heavily script and rehearse the first five minutes of your speech or presentation.
  3. Put a period at the end of each sentence. In other words … pause. Inhale while pausing. Speakers who are deliberate with their pacing look more professional, not less. Speak too quickly and you’ll look and sound nervous, and your audience will have difficulty keeping pace.
  4. Make eye contact with friendly faces. There are always many members of an audience who simply look bored or uncomfortable, which you can misinterpret as negative responses to your presentation. Stay away from them initially and connect with the alert and friendly faces, especially those who are nodding in agreement or recognition. That is not to say you should avoid the dour faces altogether. They will feel no sense of connection if you ignore them. Connect with the friendly faces at the outset, until your presentation has found its groove. Then you can start rotating in the dour faces as you move along. Those faces might not be so dour after awhile.
  5. Rehearse verbally and visually. When rehearsing verbally, present at full volume, exactly like you will the day of the presentation. Don’t mumble or go at half intensity. We learn quickly that even full volume verbalization cannot recreate the surge of motivation we feel while standing before a live audience. That’s where visualization comes into play. Sit, close your eyes and see and hear yourself delivering your presentation in front of that live audience. See and hear the confidence of your delivery and the positive audience response. The power of visualization – though well documented by researchers – is too often overlooked. One research project took two groups of people, one of which was given a basketball and asked to practice shooting foul shots. The other group was asked to sit and visualize themselves shooting and making foul shots. Guess which group outperformed the other in a live competition? Yes, the group that visualized. The same was done with throwing darts and, again, the group that visualized rather than physically practiced the task won the competition.

We have only scratched the surface with these five techniques. There are many more that go beyond the scope of this particular article. But there are many more blog posts to come.