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