6 Tips to Reduce Public Speaking Anxiety


Imagine you are giving a speech today. Are you already feeling nervous? Is your heart racing?

Public speaking is one of the most dreaded tasks we all encounter at one point in our life. Regardless if you are in school, college or work, Public Speaking is a task we all have to undergo. Fear of speaking in public ranks second among the most common phobias (spiders is number one). To put things in perspective, people are more scared of speaking in public than death, marriage or bankruptcy. This feeling is common among most of us. Everyone shares the anxious feeling when there is a perception of being evaluated.

While anxiety is a common emotion, it can become a problem when it affects our functioning. In the case of public speaking, we start feeling anxious even before we start talking in front of people. In other words, we brace for impact before the impact. So why does this happen? Cognitively, anxiety serves as a reinforcer to a negative experience. In our minds, we start to associate displeasure with speaking in public. (A friend of mine commented that since childhood, while in school, the punishment was to go the chalk board and write. It could be that we might associate being in front of people as punishment as well). Any time we feel vulnerable, our first reaction is to retreat. The retreat is initiated by generating thoughts regarding our performance.

We start thinking of multiple fallacies that we need to reject by critical thinking The most common irrational thought is that everything will go wrong like forgetting the material or how people will judge you. This is known as the fallacy of catastrophe. This fallacy triggers our sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. That is why when we are nervous we may have sweaty palms or tremble. Another irrational thought is the fallacy of approval. This line of thinking leads us to believe that nobody will like what we have to say. Well, I have news for you, not everyone will like what you say. Some people will and other people won’t. There is nothing you can do about that, but to deliver your message.

Another irrational thought is the belief that people will notice everything. This is known as the fallacy of exaggeration. During a speech, some of us will tremble a little. Because we are in constant self-evaluation during a stressful situation, we believe that people will notice. Finally, the last fallacy is the fallacy of perfection. There is an implied belief that we must execute the most perfect speech ever. We are our own toughest critic. We believe that mispronouncing a word or skipping a sentence will ruin the whole speech.

OK, so we understand what causes the anxiety but how can we overcome it? Below are a few tips to help you in your next public speaking experience:

1. Hello Anxiety!

We all get nervous and you will get nervous before your next speech. Welcome the anxiety! The feelings that you are experiencing is a fear of performance. Tell yourself that it is OK to be nervous and that we are able to function with it. This approach can be accomplished by “breaking the ice” comments. Some people may engage in small talk prior to the official presentation to reduce anxiety.

2. Know the Material

Out of all the tips, this one is crucial. Knowing what you are talking about will help you reduce anxiety. It is recommended to practice your speech. This exercise helps build confidence, and confidence will help reduce anxiety. Practice in front of a mirror if necessary.

3. Organize

How many times have you heard someone talk and you feel lost? Once you know the material, you need to organize it in a coherent way. Ask yourself, what is the goal of my speech? Make sure you present your material in an organized way (beginning, middle and end). This process gives you a map that if lost, can help you find your way back. With practice, if you forget what you where saying will help you gather your thoughts and know where you were.

4. Visualize

Once you have your game plan prepared, imagine yourself giving the speech. Visualization is a technique that helps you become familiar with the event. Imagine you are giving the speech in front of a big group. The more you practice the material and the more you see yourself doing it, the less anxious you will be.

5. Speech Take-Two

It is alright to have an error or two. Many people, as mentioned before, think that every word or every sentence must be perfect. Keep in mind that your audience does not know what you have planned for them. If you omit a word or sentence, they will not notice it. Remember that public speaking anxiety is a self fulfilling prophecy. If you think the speech will go wrong, you will seek for validation of errors. Additionally, if you use visual aid make sure that if it does not work, you are prepared. That is why it is recommended for you to know the material. I have seen many presentations where the presenter relies heavily on the visual aid. Remember, the message is what is important. Everything else supplements your message.

6. Talk

Finally, have a conversation with the audience. When presenters tend to read from visual aids or cards, they are disengaged from the audience. Remember that your speech is not about you, it is about the audience. You are giving them something, a message. Engage them with a conversation. This approach will be and feel more natural. More importantly, it will help you reduce anxiety.

Public Speaking is something we all have to do at some point. The more we do it, the easier it will be for you. Remember that it won’t be perfect every time, but with practice you will become much better. The goal is not to get rid of the anxiety, but to learn to control it.

Do you get nervous to speak in public? What do you do to reduce your anxiety?

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Source by Roberto Montanez