The books and articles that purport to advise you on overcoming anxiety about public speaking say very little about actually overcoming the anxiety. For the most part, they focus on presentation skills and the techniques of effective public speaking. Yeah, and the best way to win a race is to run fast.
Here are five tips that you can do to actually reduce your nervousness and anxiety when giving a presentation.
The most important of your presentation skills is the ability to connect with your audience. Why not take it one step further and get to know them personally? Get there before the presentation and greet people as they arrive. Be friendly, and you will make friends with them. Even people who are actually hostile to your purpose will generally respond to an individual overture of friendliness. Giving a presentation to a group of friends is a lot less daunting than giving one to a group of strangers.
Control your Brain.
One of your most important presentation skills is also a tool for controlling anxiety – Eye-Brain Control®. Eye-Brain Control® is taught and practiced in it's entirety in Executive Presentation Skills®.
Don’t scan the room with your eyes. As your presentation gets under way, address yourself to one person in the room at a time. Say a sentence or thought to one person, pause as you shift your gaze to another person, and then say another sentence. Keep doing it that way, one sentence or thought per person. This is more than good delivery technique. One of the biggest reasons for public speaking anxiety is the feeling of being overwhelmed that you get from scanning the audience. If you reduce the visual information overload by speaking to one person at a time, you eliminate the cause of that particular kind of anxiety. Control your eyes, in other words, and you control your brain.
Act the Part.
Follow the posture, gestures, and expressions of the confident speaker – the presentation skills I blogged about here. If you act confident, some part of your brain will believe you are confident, and you will burn off some of the nervous energy fueling your anxiety. The longer you act that way, the more surely you convince yourself. Breathe from your diaphragm, which will slow your breathing and keep you from hyperventilating. It will also slow your heartbeat and help you to relax.
Don’t Share Nervousness.
Don’t tell the audience that you feel nervous. It may feel to you like you’re being candid and authentic, but all you’re doing is reinforcing your nervousness. In addition, you should be aware that your complaint puts some of the burden for your nervousness on your audience. They want you to succeed, and they identify with you up there on the platform. Telling them how uncomfortable you are is bound to affect their comfort level, and that lowers their receptivity to your message.
Everyone is nervous about public speaking, but fear is something more than nervousness. Ask yourself what you are afraid of and be honest about answering. Hostile audiences are very, very rare. The people you are addressing want you to succeed. And note that if you have decent presentation skills, you will. I can almost guarantee that your audience members have sat through so many bad presentations that yours will seem the one they’ve been waiting for. If you are afraid of failing because this is a truly high-stakes presentation, get professional help. Communispond offers this kind of help in our Executive Communication Coaching™ program.