Speech anxiety, or glossophobia if you’re fancy, comes in different forms—shaky voice, trembling knees, nausea, headaches—and affects roughly 75% of the American population. That’s approximately 1 in every 4 people that gets the pre-stage sweats. The reasons for the nervousness and fear of public speaking range from person to person, but it is one of the most common phobias around. Lucky for you, speech anxiety is also manageable.
Whether you have a touch of pre-speech jitters, significant stage fright, or the idea of talking in front of a group of people makes you want to quit your job and hide for the rest of your life, these quick tips will help you quell that anxiety and turn your nervousness into a standing ovation—or at least get you through to the end of your presentation without sweating profusely.
1. Take deep breaths
Breathing is the most important part of conquering your fear of public speaking and giving a killer speech—and not passing out. Deep breathing is a type of relaxation prescribed for many different types of anxiety disorders. Even if you don't have an anxiety disorder, deep breathing can do wonders for chilling out your nerves before you get on stage or simply in front of a small group. It slows down your blood pressure and helps guide your mind away from distracting “fight or flight” thoughts and stressors.
Before your speech, rather than indulging your nervousness, try to focus on the feeling of breathing in and out in slow, even cycles. Take full breaths in through your nose allowing your chest and stomach to rise. Then exhale through your mouth feeling your stomach and chest deflate. Try to mentally count to four on your inhale and follow it with an equal four-count exhale. If you can, try to find a dark calm place to practice breathing right before you’re about to give your presentation.
Keep the same steady breathing while delivering your speech to keep your voice level and your pace even. This will help keep you from rushing your words and sounding anxious.
2. Focus on the material
Any person with a lot of experience as a public speaker will tell you that it always helps to be passionate about the topic on which you are speaking. If that’s not the case, you should still be very familiar with the topic at hand. Knowing your material will make all the difference.
Before the big day, make sure that you have gone through your speech and edited the content several times. Knowing that your speech is tight and error-free will help eliminate any unneeded stress.
While you are reading through your speech and making revisions, try to come up with questions that the audience may ask you. Write down some notes for possible answers in the margin of your speech. This will get you thinking a little bit deeper about your subject. The more familiar you with the material, the more confident you will be while you are delivering your speech, and the more confident you are, the better speaker you will be.
Even if you’re not planning on performing in Carnegie Hall, you still need to practice, practice, practice. When you’re nervous, the first thing that goes is your voice—it shakes, it waivers, maybe it sneaks up a couple of octaves. Avoid becoming the next choir soprano and calm yourself down by rehearsing your speech multiple times before hand. Even if you only have a few days to prepare, carve out at least three different occasions for you to read it out loud so you can (almost) experience the real thing before the big day.
Start with reading your speech out loud in front of a mirror. Watch your mannerisms, think about your eye contact, and be congizant of how you conduct yourself while speaking. While you are speaking, record yourself on your phone. This will help to check your pace and your inflection throughout.
Once you’ve conquered the mirror, the next step is to overcome the fear of being a public speaker. How might you do that? Invite a few friends over to act like a mock audience. Run through your speech for them and get some outside feedback about your body language, eye contact, pacing, and wording.
If you’re working on volume control, go into another room and close the door. Deliver your speech and make sure that they can still hear you on the other side of the door. The more rehearsed you are, the more comfortable you will be speaking in front of a larger group. (Sensing a theme, here?)
4. Hold your power pose
With great confidence comes great speeches, or something like that. And nothing builds confidence quite like power poses. Power stances are emboldening and stress relieving postures that you hold for a minimum of two minutes. A researcher at Harvard University discovered the correlation between holding a power pose and the increased levels of testosterone (linking to confidence) and the decreased levels of cortisol (linking to stress relief.).
Before your time to talk, try to excuse yourself to the bathroom and hold your power stance in a stall for two minutes. Stand with your feet hips width distance and place your hands on your hips, maintaining an uplifted, proud chest (kind of like Wonder Woman). You can also raise your hands up overhead like a Superman pose. While you are holding it, repeat a one-word power mantra. Something like “victory,” “success,” or “power.” Your one-word mantra should be empowering and simple to repeat.
These tips are quick and easy to use when you’re preparing for a big speech. Just remember to breathe, prepare, stay confident — and of course, get a good night of sleep before the big day. You’ll be fine.
Alexandra Deabler is a writer and editor. She has published articles about California history, travel, lifestyle, personal essays, and short fiction. She lives in New York City and can be reached through her website: alexandradeabler.com.
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