Oh those butterflies…
I’ve got a book at home called “Juggling for the Complete Klutz“. My wife bought it for me one Christmas as a stocking filler… she’s good with stocking fillers.
It’s a great book, it teaches you how to juggle in easy steps. It starts with simple moves and slowly builds up to more difficult things.
Step V is called Special Problems and the author starts by saying…
“Almost everyone seems to have a strong tendency to turn to this section too soon. Deep in our hearts we all figure we’re exceptional – one way or another – and consequently deserving of some special attention.
It is often a deeply humbling experience to realise that our problems are neither very unusual, nor even very serious.”
John Cassidy and B.C. Rimbeaux – Juggling for the Complete Klutz
When I read that I had to laugh because he’s right. We all consider our own problems to be far greater than anyone else’s. Same with Public Speaking… we all consider that we are much more nervous than anyone else.
Truth is… everyone gets nervous, in fact according to a frequently cited survey, most people consider public speaking more frightening than death!
Personally I’d rather lecture to a thousand people wearing only my socks than die….. but they are rather nice socks.
Fear of public speaking is not new, Shakespeare knew all about it…
“Steel thy fearful doubts and change thy misdoubts to resolution.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
So let’s see if I can persuade you to follow Bill’s advice and “change thy misdoubts to resolution”.
What is Fear of Public Speaking / Stagefright?
Fear of public speaking, public speaking phobia, stagefright, nerves, communication anxiety, collywobbles, call it what you will, is our response to a situation we perceive as stressful.
What you perceive as stressful can be good or bad.
“Winning a million dollars can be just as stressful as losing a million dollars – you get the same type of stress response.”
Whenever we get stressed, our primeval urge to “fight or flee” kicks in and our bodies produce a rush of adrenalin. It’s this rush of adrenalin that causes the symptoms that we associate with the fear of public speaking.
A woman went into a room at a posh hotel and saw a man pacing back and forth as he talked to himself.
She said, “What are you doing here?”
He said, “I’m the keynote speaker at a banquet. And I’m on in ten minutes.”
She said, “Do you always get so nervous?”
He said, “I’m not nervous. What makes you say that?”
She said, “You’re pacing. You’re talking to yourself. And you’re in the ladies toilet.“
Don’t worry… it doesn’t get any more technical than that, but knowing what causes all those weird symptoms can be useful.
It lets you know that your reactions are normal and you’re not going mad.
How to fight Fear of Public Speaking
There are lots of proven methods for lowering your stress level and beating Public Speaking Fear so let’s take a look at them.
Preparation and rehearsal
In my post “Practice, Practice, Practice” I stressed the importance of preparation and rehearsal in order to make your speech flow well and sound natural.
The extra benefit of preparation is that it will calm you down. Knowing that you are well prepared will do wonders for your confidence.
Rehearsal and preparation will reduce your fear of public speaking by 75 percent.
“What generates confidence is preparing well, practising with astute colleagues or coaches and getting their feedback, making sure all the little details are taken care of, and speaking often”
Practise in front of an audience – Join a Speakers Club
Thing about Public Speaking is that it’s not natural!
In day to day conversation, I say something…. you say something… I say something… you get the idea.
But in a speech, you’re doing all the talking and that feels weird.
You need to get used to that weird feeling by giving lots of speeches in front of a real live audience.
Check out my post “A helping hand” for advice on how to join a Speakers Club and get that practice.
Fighting the symptoms
Our natural response to stress results in some uncomfortable symptoms. Yours will be different to mine, but I’ve listed the common ones below, along with a few ideas to lessen their effect.
Practise deep breathing to reduce your fear of public speaking by another 15 percent.
“ If you are afraid, breathe slowly, feel your feelings and share them if you need to and then proceed to enrich the lives of others through your presentation. ”
- Shaking – your hands shake, your legs feel wobbly, your knees give way.
Put your notes on the lectern. If you hold them they will amplify your trembling. If you must hold your notes, use 3 by 5 inch cards.
- Sweating – your palms sweat, your forehead perspires, your armpits get damp.
Don’t wear a shirt or blouse that will show the sweat. You may know you are sweating, but nobody else will.
- Shallow breathing – you run out of breath and can’t finish your sentences.
Breath through your nose not your mouth and breath from your diaphragm… so called “Belly Breathing” – take a look at this great article on deep breathing.
- Heart pounds / palpitations – your heart pounds as though it’s about to explode.
The audience can’t hear your pounding heart and as you get into your speech it will slow down.
And don’t worry… it won’t explode.
- Dry mouth – your mouth gets dry and it becomes difficult to speak.
Go easy on the coffee and take a drink of water whilst you are waiting and just before you are announced.
- Upset stomach – nuff said.
Watch what you eat and find out where the nearest loos are.
- Memory stops working – you can’t remember the first line of your speech or any of the dates, names or quotations you are going to use in your speech.
When we are stressed our memories can let us down so here are a few specific things you can do:
First line of your speech – if you can only remember one line of your speech, the opening line is the one. Practise this line like crazy.
“Amateurs practise so they can remember, professionals practise so they can’t forget.”
Plus, as you put your notes on the lectern, look at that first line….
Dates and names – make sure they are in your script, highlight them if it helps.
Quotations – don’t even try to remember quotations. Pick up your notes and make it obvious that you are reading it… nothing wrong with that.
- Feeling of total panic – you think that whatever symptoms you are feeling will escalate out of control as your speech progresses.
That doesn’t happen, but you need to give a couple of speeches before you realise it.
The most stressful part of your speech is the beginning. As you get into your speech and start noticing smiling faces and people nodding in agreement, your tension will reduce.
All of these symptoms are caused by that pesky old adrenalin preparing you to do a runner or take on Joe Frasier. A great way to burn off some of that adrenalin is to introduce dynamic gestures and movements into your speech. Take a look at the great motivational speakers, they use that adrenalin to add dynamism, energy and power to their speeches.
Remember what I said earlier about Stagefright / Fear of Public Speaking… it’s a reaction to stress. Good thing about stress is that it is a mental phenomenon and hence can be controlled mentally.
Control your mind to reduce your fear of public speaking by that final 10 percent.
“ Always visualise the end of the program with 5,000 people standing up and applauding your ideas and presentation – it removes stage fright. ”
Do you know what you’re scared of? You probably don’t.
You just have a feeling of unease.
It’s a bit like your mum telling you to be careful… but she doesn’t tell you what to be careful of.
Most of our fears bear little relationship to reality so let’s take a look at our fears and compare them to reality.
Time to move from “half empty” to “half full”.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Stagefright fantasies commonly fall into two categories: how badly you’ll perform and how horribly the audience will react.
Common stagefright fantasies
- Fear that you’ll perform badly, your speech stinks – “My speech isn’t good enough. My material is terrible.”
No way! If you’ve followed my advice on writing your speech, practised, revised your speech and practised some more… you will have great material.
You may not bewitch the crowd with your silver-tongued oration, but you are doing something that most of the audience wouldn’t even try.
- Fear of how the audience will react – “The audience hates me. They’re out to get me.”
That just ain’t so and to prove it, I’m going to quote from Professor Max Atkinson’s book – Lend me your ears.
“…members of an audience are not, as many people seem to assume, wired up to each other in such a way as to constitute a collective mind that somehow enables them to conspire together against the speaker.
…when asked whether, when they are in an audience, they sit there feeling hostile towards speakers, hoping to see them fall flat on their face and make a fool of themselves. The answer is invariably no…. “
Now you may not believe me, but a professor?
General stress busters
Because the symptoms of Stagefright are the body’s reaction to stress, it follows that any stress busting technique will reduce those symptoms.
My favourites are:
- Deep breathing – if you only have time to do one thing from the whole of this post, this is the one. Deep breathing will slow down your breathing, give you something to focus on, calm you down and relax you. For a step by step guide, take a look at this great article on deep breathing
- Relaxation – any form of relaxation you can do whilst you are waiting to be introduced will help. I consciously relax various parts of my body, jaw, shoulders, arms and carry that feeling with me as I walk out.
- Exercise / keep fit – the reaction to stress causes an increase in heart rate. If you’re fit your body can cope more easily with that increase and you’ll notice it less. So get in shape.
The real secret….. don’t look nervous
In his book “Public Speaking for Dummies”, Malcolm Kushner says:
“The uncommon knowledge is, it doesn’t really matter how nervous you are – as long as you appear calm. As long as the audience thinks you’re confident, that’s what counts.“
That is great advice.
What you have to do is act out being calm and we all know what calm looks like. Relax your shoulders, let your arms hang loose, no fidgeting, no pacing, no stiff movements.
If you’re looking for role models, take a look at the masters of calm:
Bill Clinton – cool, calm, collected, no hint that he isn’t enjoying every moment.
Barrack Obama – loose limbed and lithe, a man to inspire with his word pictures and delivery.
Gordon Brown – for his sincere smile and sophisticated banter with the audience.
Things not to do
You might be tempted to try some of the remedies that are trotted out whenever Public Speaking Fear is mentioned.
- Imagine the audience naked – This strategy adds to the idea that “the audience are out to get me” they really aren’t. The audience is just a group of individuals, treat them as such.
- Don’t look at the audience. look over their heads – I said earlier that speaking to an audience is unnatural… you are doing all the talking and you aren’t getting any feedback. Correction, you aren’t getting any spoken feedback. If you look at the audience you will see smiling faces, nodding heads, puzzled looks. That’s the feedback that you need to get used to in order to make your speech feel more like a conversation.
Look at the audience members and start getting that feedback.
- Have a couple of stiff drinks – What I’m advocating in this post, is that you take control of your fears and learn how to control them. If you use alcohol as a crutch, it may relax you but can result in slurred words, fluffed timing and fumbled notes. You look silly and your confidence takes a nosedive.
There are three secrets to conquering the Fear of Public Speaking, unfortunately… nobody knows what they are.
In other words there are no quick fixes.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
It may be that you will never remove all those butterflies, but if you give it time, follow my advice and stick at it, you will learn how to keep them flying in formation.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
My thanks and gratitude to:
Randy on Flickr for his Butterfly image.
Stock,xchng for lectern and chairs image.
Mike Baird on Flickr for his sunset photo.
And the following authors whose books I have used as references and quoted throughout this article.
Malcolm Kushner – Public Speaking for Dummies
Laurie Rozakis – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking
Lilly Walters – Secrets of Successful Speakers
Professor Max Atkinson – Lend Me Your Ears