For many of us, being called upon to deliver a presentation to dozens or even hundreds of people is a daunting prospect. In fact, it’s well documented that we fear giving presentations more than we do death or dying - there’s even a great sounding term for public speaking anxiety - it's called ‘glossophobia’. So there’s no wonder then when we are summoned to present to a large audience it can feel downright intimidating… even to the most experienced of presenters.
We’ve put together a quick list of nine ways to overcome your nerves when presenting. So take a read to find out how to be a great public speaker.
1. Turn the fear into positive adrenalin
It’s very common to be fearful of public speaking, even when you’ve done it an awful lot. If you entirely lose your fear, there is a risk of becoming complacent. You want to find a sweet spot where you feel nerves and excitement, but not to the extent that it messes with your head and your breath - and sends you wildly into fight-or-flight response.
So how do you find that sweet spot? Firstly, let’s take a look at the symptoms of fear when you’re public speaking.
What might you feel? Sweaty palms, a racing heart, a tight chest, slight breathlessness, butterflies in your tummy.
All of those sensations are very similar to what you might feel if you were extremely excited.
The first thing to note is that they’re not bad sensations, we just need to send different messages about those sensations to your brain so that you don’t go into alarm mode. So, if you’re feeling those symptoms, you can literally tell yourself you’re excited. I’m excited because I’m about to go up and do a good job, and excitement is good. We want to use that energy and convert these symptoms into a magnetic and energy for our compelling speeches.
Convert the “This is terrible, I may have a panic attack” feeling into “This is GREAT! I’m excited!”.
The next thing is to focus on your breathing. Take a deep inhale and a long exhale. What we know is that if we’re doing that kind of deep breathing, it’s very difficult to be in a state of high anxiety. Secondly, if you imagine a golden globe inside your belly, and it’s radiating out warmth and molten lava, you can use this image. On each inhale it collects more golden energy and on each exhale it releases more molten golden warmth into your body. This image will help to calm you down.
The next thing you need to be doing if you’re in a state of anxiety, and needing to overcome the fear, is really connecting to your objective. So, what is important about your message? What are you trying to say?
3. Remove negative thoughts
Presentation anxiety can be seen as the saboteur in our head, the negative voice, the chimp vs. our adult persona. It’s there with a whole flurry of negative predictions of what could possibly happen. Your anxiety is negatively hypothesising.
The way to deal with it is to say "NOT NOW – I’m focusing on my objective, which is to get my point across. You are not important. Yes, you’re a chimp fear, you’re a negative voice but I’m brushing you out the way and I’m focusing on my objective because I have something to do. You have to really clarify what you want to do. You don’t give time to these negative ideas, tell yourself you have a job to do, you have something to say, you have a message to share.
So, you conquer this public speaking anxiety by turning it into the chimp – if you’ve read The Chimp Paradox, it talks about the difference between the chimp and the adult brain. And we know this kind of fear belongs with the chimp.
4. Positive visualisation
You can also visualise each step. Visualise yourself walking onto the stage from wherever you’ve come from. Visualise yourself taking a moment to look out to the audience and visualise doing some of the speech and the audience’s positive reaction, and the feeling of relaxation. What you might find in the first visualisation, is that, if you’re really in it, your heart will beat faster, and you’ll get nervous. This is great because if you notice it, you can try to channel those feelings and convert them into excitement, you can tell the negative thoughts that you have a more important job to do. And what you’re doing there is creating a neural pathway, even if it’s imagined. It’s still valid. You’re creating a neural pathway of confidence. Of being able to convert like your catalytic convertor, to convert these nerves into positivity and excitement.
5. Watch yourself back
There’s a couple of things you can do... You can do the visualisation technique, but it is even better to film yourself. You need to get used to your presentation and you need to remember the flow. In an ideal world, you want to know it off by heart. So, you need to have the points of what you’re saying and the triggers. Practise with people. The more you practise, the more you make it your own. The more you know exactly what it is you’re doing each step of the way.
One of the TED Talks we love is the one Alex Honnold did about free-climbing a 3000 foot peak in the USA. The first time he did it, he was ill prepared and it was extremely risky. He decided that the second time he was going to do the bigger peak, he was going to do it properly. He spent a year planning his route meticulously, climbing it with ropes 50 or so times, visualising it, asking every single question about what could possibly go wrong and coming up with solutions. He was all over it. When he did climb the peak, finally, he felt like he was gliding up there and he did it without ropes. So, practise is an incredibly powerful tool when doing any kind of public speech. Because it creates those neural networks of confidence.
6. Switch the spotlight from you to the audience
As the speaker, don’t make the worst mistake and think it’s all about you. Connect with your audience, in that first moment when you stand on the stage or you are welcoming them to a Zoom call.
They’re invested and they want this to be good as much as you do. They don’t want to sit there and watch someone who is completely wrapped up in their own spiral of negative voices.
Instead, they want to sit there and enjoy someone who is sharing a message that they’re passionate. Passionate about getting their message across because it’s important to them.
7. Ground yourself
Imagine your feet are rooted to the floor below. Really visualise roots leaving your feet and fixing you to the floor below. Imagine there’s a supportive energy coming from the floor, that will make you feel anchored and empowered. Now from behind you imagine that you’ve got 5 or 6 backing singers who are your backing singers, they are backing you. You will find that they expand your sense of confidence and radiance and increase the size of which you can speak.
8. Emphasis key information
Make sure that you lean into key words when you’re speaking. You emphasise them and you articulate them, and you put colour into them because that is what’s going to get those messages across. That is going to appear like you’re passionate and you’re clear and you’re confident and you care about what you’re saying. At the same time it’s anchoring you in what you are saying, which is going to make you appear more confident.
9. Use your body
Finally, use your body. Don’t let your arms get stuck in your pockets or by your sides or crossed together. The more you use your body, the more it creates a positive feedback loop for you internally because it gives the message to your brain that you are feeling comfortable and confident because you’re free enough to use gesture. That in turn frees up your vocal resonance, frees up your vocal instrument and even frees up your imagination. Not only this, it also brings to life what you’re saying for your audience and shows them, here is someone that is owning, inhabiting and truly enjoying what they’re saying.
So there we have it. We hope you find this blog helpful and that by following our tips you will be able to overcome your fear of public speaking and presenting. Be patient with yourself, use all the tools and techniques available to overcome your presentation nerves, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Good luck and let us know how you get on!
At London Speech Workshop our coaches work with people every day who have had enough of being intimidated by delivering presentations or speeches. People who may already be pretty good, but who long to be able to be consistently excellent as a presenter, to know how to harness their own power and skill as a communicator and to share their ideas and give compelling speeches in a way that is powerful to a group. With no fear! So if this sounds like something you want, then we would love to help.
Want to know more about how we work with clients? Why not register for a FREE 15-minute Discovery Call with a member of our client success team?