Thursday, November 28, 2013

Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety

Remember when you first learned to drive? You were probably pretty nervous, kept both hands on the wheel, held that wheel tightly, and shied away from highway driving because the sheer speed frightened you. Fast forward to now. You drive with one hand on the wheel (hopefully not with the other one on your cell phone!), zoom down the highway without a second thought, and laugh at how nervous you used to be. What has changed? Driving involves the same simple skills, but your attitude toward it is completely different. You have been transformed by your experience and success as a driver.

Public speaking is a similar endeavor. You will get more confident with experience and success. But there is a fundamental difference. Imagine if no one had ever TAUGHT YOU to drive. Your initial fear would be paralyzing and the results likely to lead to tremendous anxiety and difficulty, if not tragedy.

I find many people in this same situation with public speaking. They have seen others do it, so they have a rough idea of what should be done, but when they see it done masterfully they simply exclaim "I could never do that!". Well of course you couldn't if you have never been taught and had the chance to practice what you have been taught, right?

That's why I am employed. Because people need to be taught how to do this thing we call public speaking and taught how to do it well. So what I am about to share is true and helpful. However, these things alone will not make you a masterful speaker. You will need training for that. What they will do is help to reduce your anxiety a bit or at least help you manage it and use it to your advantage.

1. Know what you are talking about. There is really no substitute for this. If you are not confident in your knowledge of the topic, you will not be confident. It's as simple as that.

2. Approach public speaking with the right attitude and purpose. If you waste your time thinking about how much you dread your upcoming presentation, guess what? You will dread your presentation. The result being a dreadful talk. It is a simple self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, have a clear purpose aimed at improving the lives of your audience. You give a speech for and audience--not for a boss, a grade, or any other reason. Spend the time you have been wasting on fear and dread working on your speech!

3. Know your fundamentals. There is an art to this and there are certain conventions that have been proven to work. Familiarize yourself with them and employ them. A college public speaking course should do it for you. For those with less time, hire a pro. I can teach you in a couple of hours what you will spend four months learning in a college course because it will be tailored for you and your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Practice aloud. Can't emphasize this enough. I have written an entire blog entry on the subject. You really should read it.

5. Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, sugar, energy drinks, etc., will only intensify the adrenalin rush you are going to experience in the first minute or so.

6. For those with really bad problems there are techniques that a professional can share with you such as systematic desensitization, positive visualization, relaxation techniques, and classical conditioning.

7. Breathe. Simple but effective. Breathe deeply. Oxygen has a relaxing effect on the body as it makes its way from your lungs to the bloodstream and  muscles.

8. Or you can just hire someone like myself. Any communication consultant or speech coach worth their salt will be able to take you from frightened novice to fully functioning professional in relatively little time. This isn't rocket science. It's just specialized knowledge that a professional can share with you, not unlike the tax consultant or IT consultant we employ to help us...and every bit as essential to success.

I firmly believe that pretty much anyone can be a good competent speaker. I have seen thousands of students overcome their fear in my public speaking course so I'm very confident you can too. With the right help you CAN do this and eventually do it brilliantly.

That's all for today friends. Until we meet again, be well, speak well, and thank you for reading!

For those interested in learning more about Dan Leyes' consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.