Pre 2020, public speaking and presentation skills were largely centred around physical delivery - maintaining eye contact with your audience, taking up space on your stage, adapting your content according to the reaction of your listeners. Then the pandemic came. We had to shift from a physical stage to a tiny square on a laptop screen. Though challenging in many ways, we learnt to adapt to the world of virtual meetings and presentations, and for many of us, Zoom calls are now a daily part of life.
Two years later though, we find ourselves doing presentations and meetings face-to-face once more, as we continue to adjust to a more hybrid working lifestyle. This means re-learning how to interact with people IRL rather than from the comfort of your kitchen table or home setup. If you’re feeling nervous about the idea of presenting in real life after two years of doing it virtually, read this blog for some simple tips.
1. Shift your mindset
The language we use in our own heads can truly exacerbate our nerves. If you’re in a negative mindset - drowning in thoughts along the lines of “I’m going to embarrass myself”, “I’m awful at this”, “I’m uncomfortable”, “Everyone’s looking at me” - you’re sowing negative seeds and therefore making it more difficult to thrive. Instead, feed yourself positive affirmations in the leadup to the public speaking event - “I know what I’m talking about”, “Nobody wants me to fail”, “I’m more capable than I think”, “I’ve got butterflies”, “I’m excited to share my ideas”. Doing physical power poses can help too - read this blog for some ideas. If you start by wowing yourself, then you’ll start to wow other people.
2. Practise positive visualisation
If you're feel nervous about giving a speech or presentation, positive visualisation is key to calming those nerves. This is when you visualise the whole thing going seamlessly from start to finish. Imagine yourself entering the room with confidence, taking a few seconds to pause before you start speaking, greeting your audience with firm handshakes, warm eyes and smiles, speaking with eloquence and passion, getting all your points across clearly, receiving encouraging nods throughout and a standing ovation at the end. When you visualise how things should go, you’re setting up a neural network that will re-trigger when you step into that situation physically. If you’re wrestling with public speaking nerves, practise managing those nerves from the safety of your imagination. It’s scientifically proven to help you with the real thing!
3. Take up space
It’s difficult to feel confident if your body is small and subdued. Giving your body permission to get involved when you speak frees up your voice and relaxes your imagination. There’s science behind this too! There’s a region of your brain called the Broca’s area which helps formulate speech, and it lights up when you gesture. So when you start freeing your body, you are encouraging your brain to think of the right words, so you can form your next sentence without freezing. Next time you go to give a presentation or speak up in a meeting, start with your hands in line with your navel, rather than by your sides - this will allow the gestures to flow more freely and naturally from the outset. Make sure you are grounded and centred wherever you are standing, using the floor to support you and give you energy. Making these small tweaks to your nonverbal communication can have a huge impact on how you feel inside. We call this the ‘outside in’ approach.
Download our free eBook: 7 Tools For Giving Amazing Presentations for more tips like this.
4. Read the room
Without a doubt, reading the room is a skill that is much easier to do in real life rather than virtually. Rather than having to second guess the audience on Zoom where people often have their cameras switched off, stay on mute, have a dodgy Internet connection or are likely multitasking, in a face-to-face environment you have the advantage of being able to see, hear and feel the atmosphere your audience in a much more authentic way. This is hugely important when it comes to building rapport. It’s not about being the most entertaining person in the room and blasting them with witty, well-told stories. It’s about making your audience feel important and listened to. We can do this through active listening and by adjusting our body language to suit the situation we’re in. Don’t be afraid to show enthusiasm, get curious and ask questions if it feels right. Ultimately, it comes back to our Communication Equation: I care about what I’m saying and I care about my listeners, therefore my listeners care about what I’m saying.
5. Record yourself speaking
Practising for a speech or presentation is vital - there’s no getting away from it. You need to repeat it over and over to get the rhythm right, practise when to pause and finetune the intonation in your voice. Don't practise it in your head - say it out loud and time yourself if you're needing to stick to a timeframe. Try recording yourself and watching it back - we often have preconceived notions about how we look and sound. Playing back the reality can help you to narrow down what needs working on – whether it's removing the umms and ahhs, slowing down or adding more colour to your voice.
Top tip to practise your presentation:
If you've got a presentation coming up and you're using PowerPoint slides as a visual aid, the 'rehearse with coach' function is a fantastic tool - it not only records you speaking so you can hear yourself back afterwards, but also listens to you and gives you feedback on your tone, fillers, pace and range of vocabulary. It's a bit like having your own communication coach!
6. Try breathing exercises
It may sound obvious, but deep breaths are a game changer when it comes to public speaking anxiety. Taking deep breaths disables your fight-or-flight response to a situation. It tells your body there’s no danger here - if there really was a predator chasing you, you wouldn’t have time to do breathing exercises! Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique:
First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
Close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
Hold your breath for seven seconds.
Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
Repeat this exercise for at least four full breaths.
So there you have it, six tips for conquering your IRL public speaking anxiety. Fear of public speaking, speech anxiety, glossophobia, whatever you want to call it... is very common and very real. It affects three quarters of the population, and is essentially our innate survival mode of fight or flight. Our mind feels a threat from a public speaking situation and our body responds accordingly. Common symptoms include increased heart rate and breathing, sweating, blushing, shaky voice, trembling hands and dry mouth. Rest assured, you are not facing this challenge alone.
At LSW we are seeing a trend in clients coming to us looking for support on how to overcome their fear of public speaking in a post-pandemic world. If you’d like to get support or this, have a look at our public speaking coaching options here. We recommend starting with a free 15-minute Discovery Call so we can make sure we’re the right fit for you, and vice versa.
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