The Fear of Public Speaking: A large part of my job is public speaking; 60-90 mins presentations usually one to three times a month. Sometimes it could be in front of 10 people, or as many as 60 or more. I accepted the job so I could meet people in the industry and do trade shows. The job has changed over time and presentations are a critical part my job and department. However, I am pretty very uncomfortable doing public speaking engagements. It takes a special person to be “comfortable” doing any presentation. Luckily, I have a very supportive team that backs me up if I stumble on a topic or trip up on someone’s questions.
Why are people so uncomfortable giving presentations? It may not be just presentations; it could be a big meeting or key conversation. I get knots in my stomach when the subject matter is not in my wheelhouse. Not knowing the topic very well or the fear of getting stumped on a question can lead to some anxiety in any situation. Once I know the topic, I’m sure I will feel better. What do I feel when I start the presentation? START? WHEN I START? I actually start stressing about it a good full week or two before the presentation date. The day of, or minutes before… SHEER PANIC sets in. Full-on sweats. My heart feels like it is going to jump out of my chest along with some shortness of breath and my hands shake like crazy. It is not a pleasant feeling. I have literally gone to the restroom and smacked myself and told myself to “GET MYSELF TOGETHER”! Oddly enough, that actually helped. Does this sound familiar? Do you feel this way too? I think 99% of people can relate to this.
The Fear of Public Speaking – The Reality
It has taken a few presentations for me to realize that my heart IS NOT going to jump out of my chest, and the audience IS NOT sitting in their underwear. What if I screw up? So what? The likelihood that I ever see these people again is pretty low. If I do screw up, maybe I can crack a joke about it. I would prefer getting a couple of laughs than hearing crickets. So, what do I do to overcome this panic attack? How do I work through these feelings? Well, simply put, take a deep breath, and just do it. I wish it was that simple.
How to Get Comfortable?
One technique (when possible) is to have an expert with you to either call upon in the back of the room or refer people to when I feel a question is over my head. There’s nothing worse than that 2 second hesitation before answering that lets everyone in the room know that I’m guessing! I find it much more humbling and respectful to refer the question out or promise to research and get back to them with the answer. Don’t let them see you sweat when doing a public speaking engagement. Some people start off by admitting they are new to the job and not fully up to speed yet. Own what you know and embrace what you don’t know.
The Fear of Public Speaking – Acting?
I do not do this, but another public speaker I know does this. While talking with him about my struggles he told me of this unique technique. He finds it helpful if you put on a persona. “For the 60 -90 minutes of the event, I put myself in the mindset of a performer. ACTING like a social person who can command a room.” He claims it’s a subtle mindset shift. It helps him fight back the insecure voice in his head that says he is going to fail and allows him to be someone else for 60-90 minutes…to “emulate the best speakers I’ve seen” (Ted talkers etc…). By doing this, I can see where your confidence could grow, you could stand taller, and your voice will project further.
The Fear of Public Speaking – Record Yourself
Another technique people find helpful is recording themselves (audio is good, but a video is better). Listen to yourself on the commute home. It will allow you to hear yourself from the recipient’s point of view and you can make mental notes about the pace of your words, the clarity of your message and overall tone. For me, if I did this, the biggest takeaway would be realizing how much I was saying “umm”.
The Fear of Public Speaking – Get Feedback
Lastly, if you have someone you trust to give you brutally honest feedback, have them sit in the audience and take notes on your performance. This serves two purposes… 1) You’ll be continuously improving your skills with objective feedback 2) You’ll feel comforted knowing that there is someone else in the room who is invested in your success, and at least 1 person not judging you for missteps because they know you’re in test-mode.
How is it Going Now?
Now that I have been in this job for a couple years and have done numerous speaking engagements, I will say it is getting easier. I still not a fan of public speaking, but the anxiety is slowing going away. It didn’t hit me until my last presentation last month; I still had a small ache in my stomach, my heart was still beating hard and fast but NOT out of my chest, but this time, I was able to just get up and get it over with. I was just able to talk about my subject, crack a couple of jokes and go with the flow. FINALLY!
If you don’t do presentations frequently or don’t have stage fright, maybe you won’t understand. Maybe I am over the hump now? All I can say is that after 20 some presentations, it’s getting easier.
How do you overcome stage freight? What do you do to calm your nerves? Share them here!