What do spiders, flying and public speaking have in common? They are all on the list of top 10 fears people have. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, public speaking is the #1 fear in America. Why is this? And what exactly are people afraid of?
The idea of standing behind a podium, under a light, and talking to a group from a stage can be terrifying—even for people who do it all of the time. Many famous people have declared their anxiety for public speaking—Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien.
Our bodies have physiological and psychological responses to “stage fright” such as, sweaty palms, fast heart rate, dry mouth, shaky knees, negative self-talk … you get my drift! These reactions are often inevitable, but we can manage some of these responses and ease our anxiety levels over public speaking by:
- Prepare and Practice: Always a good idea to go through your speech a few times—a couple days before if possible. The more we practice the more it sticks with us. Time it and know that when you are actually giving the speech, it will go a little faster.
- Drink water, not coffee! Caffeine causes us to be jittery—and since we already can feel this way, avoid enhancing that feeling and stick with water.
- Take a few deep breaths. This can clear your head, relax your heart rate and help centered.
- Get there early. Make sure all is in place, and acquaint yourself with the room/surroundings. I also enjoy talking with a few folks as they arrive—making some connections can help settle the nerves.
- Deflect attention. Within the first few minutes, ask a question for the group to ponder, get them talking to each other. This gives you a minute to regroup, take a breath, sip some water, and ground yourself.
- Be ok with messing up. We are not perfect, so making a mistake is really ok. Embrace it. Half the time, people don’t even know we have “messed up.”
- Smile. We sometimes forget to do this! It is a fantastic way to make connections with people; create a warm, inviting atmosphere; and increase our likeability and credibility.