Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

If you are ever afraid of public speaking, you are not alone. In fact, the fear of public speaking is often rated as the #1 phobia, even higher than the fear of death which is rated as the #2 phobia.  Three out of four adults experience anxiety when they have to present or speak publicly.  So, if you are afraid of public speaking, you are one of us – normal people.  🙂

As Nelson Mandela said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”.  I believe that we can still be afraid of public speaking, and at the same time, deliver an effective speech that adds values to our listeners.

Why do we experience anxiety when we have to speak in public?

The main cause of anxiety is the concerns we have about ourselves.  We worry that we will fail.  We worry that our talk will be boring.  We worry that people may think we are foolish.  There are just a lot of worries about our own self-image – how we will appear to the public or what people will think of us.

With so much pressure on ourselves, no wonder we feel nervous.  When we experience anxiety, our heart may beat fast; our palms may get sweaty; our hands may shake, and we could even feel dizzy.  With all these symptoms going on, it seems impossible to remember our speech or to deliver it effectively.

Should we worry so much about our appearance?

Let’s take a step back and think about the reasons for us to deliver a speech.  Often times, we deliver a speech because we have a piece of information that we would like to share with others.  This information can add value to the audiences either by inspiring them, or teaching them some knowledge that can be used to improve their lives. We deliver a speech because our speech can help our listeners.

Since the reason for our public speaking is to add value to others, why is it that we pay so much attention on ourselves when we prepare and deliver our talk?  Do I look good? Do my words come out right? Do people like me? Will they boo me off stage?  Me… Me… Me…  It’s all about me.

Shouldn’t our attention be about our audiences, instead?  Should we focus on helping our audiences and figure out the best ways to deliver information so that it’s easy to understand and remember?

It is not about the presenter.  It is all about the audiences.  Time is the most precious commodity in life.  The audiences sacrifice their valuable time to listen to us. What do we have to say that can add value to our audiences?

Three steps to reduce our fear and anxiety of public speaking

1.  Practice… Practice… Practice…:

In public speaking, the more we practice, the more we feel comfortable with our words, our movements, our voices and our expressions. Five years ago, when I first joined Toastmaster and delivered my first speech, I was extremely nervous.  I read the whole speech from a piece of paper; my head was down, and I didn’t make any eye contact.  My hands were shaken.  I was really glad when the speech was over.  With lots of practice, I got better and better over time.  Even so, today, before I have to do a public speech, I practice in front of a mirror, and in front of a live friendly audience (my fellow Toastmasters, or my children 🙂 who always clap).

2. Change our focus:

As I prepare a presentation or a speech, the first thing I do is to spend some quiet time to think about my audiences.  I ask myself several questions:  Who are my audiences? What may make them happy? What are their worries? How can I add value to my audiences? What feeling can I instill in my audiences to help them?  What can I say that would enable them to do more for their job, their family or their lives?

Focus more on feeling and on emotion.  Maya Angelou, a famous poet and performer, once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When we move the attention away from ourselves and onto the audiences, when we stop worry about our own appearance, when we devote our mind and heart into adding value to the audiences, our pressure and anxiety subdue.  The speech is no longer about us.  It is about our listeners.

3.  Five minutes before stage time:

Deep breathing is a technique I always use before stage time.  About 5 minutes before I have to get up on stage, I practice deep and slow breathing.  I take a full deep breath in and slowly breathe out.  The deep breath gives more oxygen to my brain and allows me to calm my body and mind almost instantly.  Right after that, I quietly say a prayer: “Dear God, please allow me to add value to my audiences.  They have sacrificed their time to listen to me.  Please bless my audience.  Amen.”

Conclusion

The fear of public speaking is normal.  Three years ago, I got a chance to meet with a World Champion of Public Speaking at a Toastmaster event.  This person told me that he still feels anxious whenever he has to get up on stage to speak.  Imagine that!  Even the World Champion of Public Speaking still feels anxiety about public speaking.  I have been in Toastmaster for almost five years and delivered many public speeches; I still feel nervous about giving speeches.  However, by following the three steps: practice, move the focus to the audiences, take deep breaths before stage time, you and I can control our anxiety and deliver an effective presentation that adds value to our listeners.

Remember: Adding value to the audiences is the ultimate goal of public speaking.

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