How to overcome the fear of public speaking?
How to overcome the fear of public speaking? This question was one of the first, asked by the participants of the CBC Karelia SpeakBusiness program as they supposed not only listen to our lectures but also several times present their own projects.
Frankly speaking, it is the most frequent question I am asked by my student in different countries. So, it is about time to discuss this global problem. How to stop your hands from shaking, get over your dry throat and dizziness, build your confused thoughts into some sort of structure, and so on. This state of fear has seemingly endless manifestations.
In general, 9 out of 10 speakers experience stage fright, while some even encounter symptoms of panic
Coaches, seemingly, in order to terrify the audience altogether, like to say that during public speaking, roughly the same amount of adrenaline is released as during a parachute jump.
It’s precisely this hоrmone that quickens our respiration and heart rate, practically, preparing our bodies for the ”fight or flight” response, as we naturally perceive public speaking as something deadly. But why?
Researchers relate the fear of public speaking to the social structure that existed in the primordial community: then, literally all human actions passed through the filter of public approval. Rejection from fellow tribesmen could lead to expulsion from the community, which meant certain death, as it was impossible to survive alone. Hence the adrenaline: Mother Nature gave it to us as salvation, so that we could escape or fight back.
But today this defense mechanism, more so, brings us half to death. Since there is nowhere to run and there is no one to beat, unemployed adrenaline makes it difficult to breathe, our arms and legs are shaking, the light starts fading … And then we begin desperately trying to cope with adrenaline, which has now become our enemy.
What to do when an adrenaline rush hits you right before your performance or even when you’re already on stage?
Doctors say that the three fastest ways to reduce adrenaline levels in the blood are: tears, alcohol and physical activity. Crying before going on stage isn’t too pretty: we have no need for red eyes or flowing mascara. To drink or not to drink, decide for yourself. However, doctors emphasize that the choice towards alcohol should be made only if the risk from drinking is less than the risk of shock due to the stress experienced. But movement is a natural way of coping with adrenaline produced by the body. You can box an imaginary punching bag, climb the stairs, et cetera. Any physical activity that causes rapid heartbeat relieves stress. It’s important to monitor your breathing. Lastly, exercises for fine motor skills also work very well in this case. Here are some exercises from our collection.
Quickly connect the thumbs on both hands alternately with the little, ring, middle, and index fingers. Then move in the opposite direction: start with your index fingers and finish with your little fingers. Now, on the left hand, start with the little finger, and on the right, with the index finger. And in the opposite direction.
You’ll be surprised, but these seemingly elementary exercises will help you not only process excess adrenaline, but also develop your oratory skills. Neurophysiologists highlight the fact that motor centers of speech in a human cerebral cortex are located near motor centers of fingers. Therefore, by stimulating motor skills of our fingers, we transmit impulses to the speech centers, activating speech.
You can also move on stage. At the very beginning of the performance, when the adrenaline is literally through the roof, walk slowly across the stage, adjust the microphone, rearrange the glass of water so it is more convenient for you, wave to your friends in the hall, if appropriate. Use demonstrative gestures actively when speaking. Show how the indicators have increased with an upward movement of your hand. Curl your fingers as you list the questions to be discussed. Conscious, appropriate to the situation movements look better from the stage than trembling hands. And it’s a good time to remind you that regular exercise too is a perfect way to deal with the build-up of stress.
From physical exercise, we move on to breathing exercise.
Breath control is a great exercise to do while waiting for your performance to begin. It’s based on a well-known meditative technique ”Conscious Breathing”. For about two minutes, you must control your inhalation and exhalation. Inhale for 4 counts, then hold your breath for 4 counts, then exhale for 8 counts and again hold your breath for 4 counts. As you can see, the main task is to exhale more slowly than to inhale, since that is how we usually breathe at rest. Stress means also clamps in the body, lifted up shoulders, tense facial muscles. As you exhale, lower your shoulders down, relax your hands. Remember, this unpleasant tension takes away the energy you need to perform successfully. Get rid of it.
“There is nothing more scary than a closed door,” said Alfred Hitchcock
And he definitely knew a thing or two about fears. Indeed, any uncertainty provokes your imagination, which is already painting the most unpleasant pictures of a public fail. After all, in many ways this stress arises precisely because we don’t know ”how everything will be.” Reduce the field of obscurity. Find out in advance more details related to your performance: what the auditorium looks like; how big is the audience; how they will sit; who are they, et cetera. In such great amounts of details, your stress will dissolve to a certain extent.
And then of course, rehearsal will help you. Do not be lazy. It’s known that Steve Jobs rehearsed each of his brilliant performances at least a 100 times!
And now the most important approach that will help you get rid of stress and it’s tied to focus
What do you focus on when you go on stage? On your text? On yourself? All these are incorrect mindsets. Your focus should be exclusively on your audience and their interests. Otherwise, you are doomed to be in a constant state of fear, caused by your expectation of evaluations – approval, recognition, applause … Forget about evaluations. Go out not for them, but for the audience, in order to share your knowledge, energy and expert opinions with your listeners. Think not about how they will look at you, but about what interesting, and most importantly, useful you can tell and how to express your idea in order to be correctly understood by the very audience in front of which you are speaking. Everything should be for the sake of the audience. Shifting the focus of attention from yourself to the audience can work wonders. Trust me!
Blog writer Larisa Katysheva
Larisa is a leading expert in communications, TV and radio journalist, pitch-coach, media-trainer, author of the book “Presentation for an investor”, author of group and individual trainings on public speaking and crisis communication.