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Got Public Speaking Anxiety? Here’s How to Conquer It

Got Public Speaking Anxiety? Here’s How to Conquer It

One of the best ways to grow your small business is to be involved in your community. When you give talks at community events, it gives potential clients the chance to meet you and to learn about how your company can help them better live their lives.

From school job fairs to Chamber of Commerce presentations, you can make an impact on others by talking about who you are, what you do and why you do it. You also help your community by talking about the volunteer projects and non-profit organizations you support.

If you are like many of us, however, the thought of speaking before an audience can get your heart racing, your mouth dry and your palms sweaty. In fact, you may have turned down previous offers to speak at events because of these very common feelings of public speaking anxiety.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly three-fourths of Americans suffer from some form of speech anxiety. These stressful feelings once caused comedian Jerry Seinfeld to quip that most people would rather be in the coffin at a funeral than presenting the eulogy.

Did you know that many experienced speakers admit they often feel anxious before giving a speech, and some professional speakers report that they feel nervous before every presentation? So, how do they do it? Why do they do it?

The simple answer is that they have learned, through practice, to handle their fear of public speaking. If you have avoided opportunities to share your expertise as an expert in your industry, it is time for you to learn what experienced speakers have learned.

If you ask people of any age and any occupation what they fear about public speaking, you’d be surprised at how similar their answers are. One tip professional speakers use is to name their fear and then to determine how to handle that fear. Here are a few common fears related to public speaking:

Your Mind Will Go Blank and You Will Not Know What to Say

You can conquer this fear by using an outline or notes while you talk. Another idea is to use a slide presentation to help keep you on track while you talk.

Avoid memorizing your speech, instead relying on practice time and your familiarity with your topic to keep your speech fresh and interesting. Yes, your speech may come out a little bit differently each time you deliver it, but you will avoid the “actor’s nightmare” situation where you forget what you have to say.

Your Audience Will Not Be Interested in What You Have to Say

Some people go on to say that they fear people in the audience will judge them or even laugh at them.

You can conquer this fear by realizing that, in most cases, your audience members have elected to be at your event. They are interested in your topic and they want to hear your ideas. Handling speech anxiety is a bit of a mind game. Instead of focusing on a negative outcome, focus on a positive one. Look out at your audience and smile. It relaxes them, and it relaxes you.

The physical symptoms of stress can be overwhelming for some speakers. A rapid heart rate, irregular breathing and unwelcome perspiration all can be part of speech anxiety. One way to help combat these pre-speech symptoms is to focus on your breathing before you are scheduled to speak. Try inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly to bring more oxygen to your brain. Many speakers report that focusing on something pleasant, such as a relaxing beach or your audience clapping when you have finished, helps relax them.

Something Unexpected Will Go Wrong

There is a great scene in the 2014 film “Still Alice” in which the title character, played by Julianne Moore, drops all her notecards during a speech. The audience held its collective breath as she picked them up, sorted them, smiled and got back on track.

Yes, things can go wrong during a speech. Technology can fail, cellphones can go off, people can arrive late and babies can cry. However, if you prepare your speech well and rehearse it, you can handle just about anything that comes your way.

Organize your information in a logical, understandable format. Think of personal experiences and practical examples you can use to make your topic more relatable to your audience.

Research studies reveal that audiences tend to remember best your introduction and your conclusion. It is not that the rest of your presentation is not important; it is just that those sections of your talk are your real opportunities to grab your audience’s attention.

Begin with a great story or with a startling fact or statistic that relates to your topic. Connect back with that opener when you conclude your speech, and then leave your listeners with more thought-provoking information.

Practice your speech at least a few times before you deliver it. You can video yourself if you like, or you can enlist a friend or family member to listen and to give you some feedback on how you do.

Your goal is not to give a perfect presentation. We are all human, and you will only set yourself up for failure if you expect to say every word perfectly with no filler words such as “um” or “ah.” Just focus on delivering your speech in a natural manner that is professional, engaging and respectful of your audience.

If you do find yourself stumbling on a certain word or phrase, don’t call attention to it by apologizing. Just briefly correct yourself and keep going. Chances are good your audience didn’t even notice the mistake.

With practice as a speaker, you will learn to trust yourself. Part of that trust is learning to be ready for what could go wrong. Even if you have rehearsed with your PowerPoint several times, for example, there could be a computer problem at the time of your speech. Always have a back-up plan in case there is a technology problem.

Other details to check on before your talk include the time limit for your speech and the size and demographics of your audience. Also, consider whether there will be time for questions and answers after your speech and then inform your audience accordingly at the beginning of your talk.

None of us is born a great speaker. Yes, some people may have more natural talent for it than others, but public speaking is a skill that anyone can learn and develop. When you know your topic well and are passionate about it, you have already won half the battle.

Giving a public speaking presentation can be a great way to advance your small business and its presence in your community. By following these simple tips, you can be prepared to handle your opportunity with confidence.

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by Tricia Drevets // Regular Contributor to Businessing Magazine. Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer who specializes in business and communication topics. A community college speech and theater instructor, Tricia lives in beautiful Southern Oregon.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.