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Public Speaking: 3 Counterintuitive Ways to Face Your Fears

June 4, 2015

public speaking fear

What was I thinking? Why did I agree to do this? I’d rather be anywhere but here.  I just want to get it over with and get out! I might not make it, I can’t do it, what would happen if I just left right now …

Have any of those thoughts crossed your mind prior to a presentation or speaking engagement? It’s okay if they have. You know you’re not alone. Everyone, even seasoned speakers, experiences a surge of adrenaline prior to approaching the front of the room.

Adrenaline. That’s all it is. It’s as if your body and your brain had a meeting without you and agreed to ramp up your physical and mental energy to prepare you for your turn at the podium. It’s your body’s way of giving you the energy you need to do well. For most people, the first two minutes are the worst and then the adrenaline surge dissipates and they hit their strides.

There’s no one sure-fire cure for fear of public speaking, just as there’s no one definitive source of the fear, but there are some mindset shifts you can use to ease the pain. For the record, they don’t include picturing your audience in their underwear!

Instead, here are three tips that may seem counterintuitive, but give them a try and see what works for you:

  1. Let out a big exhale or two … or three. Breathing exercises have long been a staple of public speaking coaches, and they can be great for managing anxiety. I’m suggesting, however, that you put your focus solely on the second part of the transaction – that is, on producing a robust exhale. You’ll naturally inhale in order to exhale, but when you focus your attention on the exhale, it gives you the opportunity to watch yourself release anxious air from your system. Let out a nice long breath or two and notice the relief it brings you within moments.
  2. Look right at, and into, your audience’s faces. That’s right, look at them, look right into their faces. I’m not talking about mechanical eye contact, I’m talking about embracing your audience with a warm, inviting, empathetic gaze. You’re there to connect and to deliver something of value or benefit to your audience, that’s your charge for the occasion, so look at your audience as if you were working to win over a group of new friends. Be with them, engage with them, focus on them more than on yourself. It’s not all about you, which by itself can be a helpful revelation!
  3. Say, out loud and with genuine enthusiasm, “I love doing this!” Crazy as it may sound, this technique is my favorite. I have seen it transform the demeanor of many a nervous presenter. Say it right before you begin – or say it in your opening, as in “I love being here!” or “I’m so excited to be here!” – and your face will relax, you will smile, your whole being will convey an ease that will influence the rest of the experience for you and your audience. Seriously, try this one, it works and it’s fun!

If your fear and loathing of public speaking persists, here’s one last suggestion: do more of it. Find your local Toastmasters chapter and join. If it doesn’t desensitize your anxieties, it will force you to become more adept at co-existing with your nerves, which puts you in the company of seasoned speakers.

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About The Author

Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The founder of SmartMouth Communications, Levine is also the author of “Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World" and the creator of SmartMouth OnDemand , an innovative online learning platform that offers interactive skill-building communications courses. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and events nationwide.

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