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Nine Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety When Speaking

I had a great advantage for the first eleven years of my speaking career. My mom was in the audience almost every time I spoke. Moments before I walked onto the platform, regardless of how nervous I was about my topic—I looked out at the audience…and there she was. Looking at me, smiling, cheering me on without any words necessary. She was the consummate mother. She wanted me to win. She was my biggest cheerleader. I could have said, “Hickory, dickery dock” and she would have thought it was terrific.

As I began to travel and speak, I learned an important lesson about overcoming anxiety or nervousness regarding public speaking. Obviously, my mother couldn’t be with me on the road, but I began a helpful habit. Just as I would step up to the podium to make my opening comments, I would look for friendly eyes in the audience. I discovered in nearly every group of listeners, there is at least one person who really wants you to do well. Their faces show it. They’re excited. Grinning. Anticipating. Giving great eye contact. Ready to learn or be entertained. They’re just ready. A little bit like having your mom present. When communicators find those friendly eyes and focus on them for the first few minutes of their message, they find it easier to gain composure and eventually look outward at the entire audience. Even today, before I ever utter a word, my first habit is to find those friendly eyes in the crowd. In fact, this is a new Habitude called: “Find Your Mom.”

You probably know that in frequent surveys taken among Americans, people continue to confirm that public speaking is their number one fear. People hate the thought of getting up in front of a group of peers and speaking; we imagine the worst—like completely forgetting what we planned to say or bombing on that alleged, funny opening joke. Folks are so afraid of that they fear public speaking more than they fear death, which comes in at number two. Comedian Jerry Sienfeld once said that since people rate their fear of public speaking higher than their fear of death that must mean that at a funeral—they’d rather be the guy in the casket than the one giving the eulogy!

Eight Other Ways to Reduce Anxiety as a Speaker

1.  Prepare Extensively                       

The more ready you feel, the more peace you’ll feel. Proper prior planning prevents pitiful poor performance. Winston Churchill said: “There is in the act of preparing the moment you start caring.”

2.  Memorize Your First Burst

I mentioned this earlier, but know your first two or three sentences like the back of your hand. Be absolutely familiar with your introductory story, fact, supposition, question or quote.

3.  Dress Appropriately for the Audience

It’s subtle, but if I speak somewhere in which I am completely overdressed or underdressed, I have this tiny nagging discomfort that distracts me from my purpose.

4. Take Two Deep Breaths

Just before you go on, calm yourself by breathing deeply and focusing on the needs of the people and not your own. Slow down; focus yourself and get oxygen to your brain.

5. Envision Yourself Being Effective

As you focus on the needs of your listeners, see yourself with the eyes of faith. Imagine how your message will address those needs and help them to improve their lives.

6. Wear Something Comfortable

Along with appropriate dress, remove any physical distractions that would hinder you from freely communicating the message in your clothing or props. Relax and be comfortable.

7. Use Visual Aids

This means going beyond using an overhead projector. It may mean drawing their attention to an object, or a visual on a screen or even another person, so you can collect yourself.

8. Arrive Early

If possible, get to the room plenty early for any last minute preparations, and to ensure the enemy won’t divert you with some catastrophe five minutes before you go on.

The next time you’re in front of a strange audience—and sweat beads on your forehead—just find your mom…and practice this list above.

What are some ways that you use to reduce your anxiety when speaking?

The new book, Habitudes For Communicators is at: www.HabitudesForCommunicators.com

6 Comments

  1. Marcus on July 27, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I always try to break the ice with some humorous story about myself… Hello get the audience relating to me in someway that also relates to my audience

  2. Pat Hannon @phannon on July 27, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    This is a great list, Tim. I’ve discovered that knowing exactly how I’m going to begin helps defeat the anxiety monster. My opening lines are always memorized and well practiced.

  3. Richard I. Garber on July 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Good list. However your claim that “… in frequent surveys taken among Americans, people continue to confirm that public speaking is their number one fear” is nonsense.

    Here are four examples from the past three years that I’ve blogged about:

    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/04/poll-by-readers-digest-canada-found.html

    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/04/another-four-situations-people-would.html

    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/10/giving-presentations-isnt-top-fear-of.html

    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2009/11/getting-root-canal-done-is-scarier-than.html

  4. Joe Wickman on July 30, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I would add to the list, “Check and DOUBLE CHECK all devices you’ll be using.” I think there’s some mysterious law of nature that says, “The microphone, projector, or any other helpful tool will turn into a liability if not loved and cared for prior to a speaking event.”

    Thanks for the list Tim.

  5. Stephanie on July 31, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Great list! Can’t stress enough the importance of preparation. I’ve heard others share that practicing your talk 7 times gives you excellent familiarity with what you’re going to say and I’ve found that to be true. Your audience will definitely notice!

    Visualization has been key for me. I picture the room and setup as well as me speaking. By the time I give the talk I’ve done it so many times in my head it’s no big deal!

    Thanks for continuing to share helpful content, Tim.

  6. sbyrtus on August 10, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I work from home for a 40 year old company, (LegalShield). When I took on a leadership position in my local area, I was invited to the Home Office with several others for a “Train The Trainers” class. One of the things I remember the trainer of that class saying was to eat a banana, (or two) 15 to 20 minutes prior to speaking. He said that bananas have a natural Beta Blockers which helps to reduce anxiety.

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Nine Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety When Speaking