For most people, their #1 fear is public speaking. If you’re nodding in agreement right now, you’re not alone. Most of the world’s population struggles with a debilitating fear of public speaking (F.O.P.S) also know as stage fright or communication apprehension.
And you have good reason to have this fear. Back when we roamed the earth as tribes people, if all eyes were on you that meant danger – which would result in some time of punishment or even expiration. Some of us (not many, roughly 25% of the population) have evolved to overcome this fear of all eyes on you and come off as natural public speakers. But for the other 75%, this primal instinct of fearing the tribe (ehem, audience) looking at you and only you is still very much intact. In many ways, it goes against our biological programming to feel comfortable in front of an audience where we are the sole center of attention.
I am here to teach you how you can overcome F.O.P.S because like many things in life, you can learn how to become an effective and confident communicator.
You may be scratching your head right now, thinking “well that’s impossible” or “mm hmm, I’ll get over my F.O.P.S when pigs fly!”
No no no. Right here, right now I want to help you tackle and conquer your stage fright once and for all.
Here is how:
Take a moment to breathe in and out. You need to calm yourself and make sure oxygen is being delivered to your entire body. If you’re familiar with the breathing exercises, now’s the time to pull them out. Many meditation apps have this feature now so be sure to take a closer look if you use one of these guided meditation tools. Otherwise, try the 4-4-4 where you breathe in for 4 counts, hold at the top of your breath for 4 counts, and exhale in 4 counts. There are numerous others that are only a Google search away.
Visualize a positive outcome. Imagine the public speaking event (i.e., speech, talk, meeting) going really well. Do not succumb to negative self-talk and feelings of doubt. The quickest way to fail is by talking yourself into it. Instead, you should be pumping yourself up through positive self-talk. Find a mantra or a phrase that you keep to yourself and say it to yourself over and over to put you in a positive state of mind. Here are some examples: “I got this.” “I’m going to great!” “This talk will add tons of value and enrich people’s lives.” Or choose an esoteric sentence and say it to yourself or aloud in a private space.
You Have Time
Know that you have time. You have time to think and time to speak. When we get nervous and let panic take over, we are not thinking. Blurting out sentences or forgetting to think before we speak are avoidable by building in the thinking time you actually have. When your up on stage in front of a live audience one second of silence feels like an eternity. I know. But you should revel in the fact that you actually have time, use it to buy yourself thinking time, and the audience will appreciate your taking the time to speak logically and slowly so that they can follow along. Feel confident in knowing that you can pace yourself. This will also prevent you from hyperventilating or rambling nonsensical phrases, which the audience will have a hard time unraveling. Take your time and use it to think clearly, speak clearly, and have the audience follow along.
Oprah Winfrey’s, a seasoned public speaker and TV personality, has been credited with saying nervousness is a selfish emotion. Don’t be selfish! Keep perspective about the reason you are giving the talk in the first place. You are there to add value, you are not there to be judged on your outfit or anything else you might be self-conscious about at any point. You have to realize that people are listening to you speak because of how you can help them. Do you know how many times I see on YouTube or on the stage people who are 100% committed to delivery their message the best way they know how to the audience? The least stressed and most effective public speakers and YouTubers prioritize their content and delivery instead of their outfits, their hair, fancy special effects. All of those elements can be important, but they are not the most important things. And the result is high-quality delivery, high-quality content, and high-quality impact!
So just remember, if you’re all caught up in worrying how the audience will think of you, your outfit, or how smart you appear to be, then of course you’re going to be nervous. Because then the focus shifts to YOU and it becomes all about you!
The reality is, everyone’s just thinking about themselves. So, it’s not about you. Sure, people might quickly judge your appearance or evaluate your outfit, but at the end of the day what’s going to earn their respect and their viewership is the quality of the content you can deliver. This is value. This is what they’ll pay for and spend time listening to. Just knowing that can alleviate the pressure. Make it about them.
A sure-fire way to feel confident and lower communication apprehension is to prepare. Know your stuff. You don’t necessarily have to be a subject-matter expert but if you’re speaking about a subject then you’re expected to know something that the audience does not know. You are sharing with them new ideas or novel ways of thinking about the topic. Thus, you absolutely need to prepare by doing the research and creating a logical outline of points you’ll make and examples you’ll share. Ben Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.” Yikes. Sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.
And the stress you give yourself by failing to prepare is 100% avoidable. Unless it’s an impromptu off-the-cuff speaking engagement (rare) then you have time to think about what you want to say and how you’ll say it. The onus is on you to prepare for your talk or meeting! It’s one of the best ways to set your mind at ease before you hit the stage. There’ll be butterflies in your stomach for sure, but instead of 1 million butterflies (stress levels way high), there might be only 3 butterflies (channeling stress into performance energy). You decide how many butterflies you want flying around your tummy.
So, there you have start with those 5 strategies to help zen you out before hitting that stage or boardroom. You’ll be happy that you did!