Dealing with Stage Fright
If you are a leader with public speaking fears, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
An American research survey has shown that public speaking is the number one fear for all men and women alike, a fear even greater than death itself!
Jerry Seinfeld breaks it down humorously for us, “This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
However, knowing that most people are afraid of public speaking doesn’t make it any less intimidating for you.
In this section I will discuss some possible reasons for your public speaking fears and give you some action steps you can take to overcome your stage fright.
The first thing you must do is to understand some possible reasons for the fear.
Reasons for Public Speaking Fears
1. Fear of the audience
As you step into the limelight with so many eyes focused on you and expecting you to say something of significance, your thoughts begin to go wild,
“What if they criticize me?”
“What if they ask something I cannot answer?”
“What if I get laughed at?”
You need to overcome these irrational fears by understanding that your audience too, wants you to perform well, and in fact most of them will be very patient if they know you are new to public speaking.
This is because they also understand the fears that are involved in such an endeavor.
If you perceive your audience as being unreceptive, cold and criticizing, you will act with even more nervousness. The first step to overcome this fear is to realize that for the most part, your audience will be open, receptive and encouraging to you.
2. Fear that your message is lousy
Another possible fear you may have is that your message is not substantial enough and it will reflect badly on your ability as a speaker.
This is a legitimate fear, but it can be easily overcome if you are sufficiently prepared.
Since you are speaking on a topic which you are supposed to be an expert in, you shouldn’t have a problem with knowledge.
What you could do is to get some feedback from family members or close friends as you do a mock presentation in front of them. Ask them to offer their feedback and revise them if necessary.
If you think Steve Jobs is a great presenter, remember that he rehearses 7 or 8 times before every presentation, and he makes sure everything, including lightning, sound and effects happen exactly when he wants it. He practices it down to a T.
So if you are concerned about the quality of your message or delivery, then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
Overcome Your Public Speaking Fears What Can You Do?
Despite these preparations beforehand, you can still feel extremely fearful going to center stage.
But that’s what fears are: It is just a negative feeling that sometimes cannot be explained by reason.
No matter how hard you try to reason your fears away, that nervousness and trepidation still stay with you.
When that happens, you can further try these other exercises to help yourself.
1. Focus on the subject matter at hand
Fear often happens as a result on focusing on the wrong things.
You might be feeling the fear because you are imagining the worse possibilities that can occur; the key here is to focus your mind on the subject matter, not on your own inadequacies or on any negative possibilities.
If you are constantly thinking about how you look and what others would say, remember that you are a leader here to serve people, not for yourself to look good.
Keep your mind focused on benefiting your audience through the contents of your speech and you will find that you will become sharper and more focused.
2. Imagine silly situations
One of the methods you can adopt to calm your nerves is to imagine your audience to be in a very silly situation.
You could imagine that they were naked, or all dressed in funny clothes. It’s a little crude, but it does the job!
By imagining that your audience is in an even more awkward situation than you, you become more self-assured and calm to present your material. Once again, this method simply takes the focus off you and puts it onto the audience.
3. Slow down consciously
Motion creates emotion. One of the mistakes that I find myself committing in speeches is that I tend to speak too fast. I find that this often comes as a result of being public speaking fears.
One of the ways you can calm your nerves is to purposefully and consciously slow down your talking speed.
Instead of rushing to the next line immediately, learn to use pauses in between your speeches to your advantage.
You’ll find that slowing down and pausing doesn’t just increase the quality of your speech, it also serves as a great way to calm your nerves.
4. Do some physical activity
Before your actual speech, go to a room where you can be alone and do some physical exercises like jumping jacks.
Do just enough for your muscles to loosen up and for you to feel more relaxed, but not so much that you’ll end up sweating and trying to catch your breath!
Also, right before you are entering your room to make the speech, swing your arms a few times to loosen up your muscles as well.
All these tips should help you overcome your public speaking fears for the first few times. After you have been doing public speaking for a while, these pre-speech exercises should become more natural to you.