Public speaking fear can be paralyzing. When I took my first speaking class in High School, I was so nervous giving a speech that I could feel my ears get so warm I thought or sure that everyone could see them glowing red. My hands would shake, I would feel light-headed and sometimes it would get so bad I would see purple at the edges of my vision and nearly faint.
Public speaking anxiety is much more common than you may think. It has been estimated that 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety or nervousness when it comes to speaking in public. However, many people let that fear get the better of them and go to extraordinary lengths to avoid speaking. Although the class clown, Featured Speaker Patty Kreamer would freeze up in class when attempting a speaking assignment. This fear followed her into adult life. In fact, she feared speaking so much she moved out of town twice in her career in order to avoid speaking for her job.
Obsessing about your performance as a public speaker haunts beginners and experienced speakers alike. Even the most skilled public speakers, admit they battle with their nerves before a big presentation.
The sense of nervousness is caused by a sudden rush of the hormone adrenaline into the nervous system. This causes a “fight or flight” reaction. This reaction, stated very basically, is when we are confronted with a threatening situation, such as an automobile swerving in front of us. The adrenaline rush stimulates our physiological reactions.
As speakers, we can use what nature has given us to our advantage. Nerves are good if we learn to control them, even harness them. Adrenaline helps us perform better, it is our body’s own natural stimulant. Start by recognizing that the nervous tension we feel as we address a group is a form of positive energy. Being nervous is good, as it shows that you really care about getting your message across. You value your credibility and want to sound and look good to your audience.
So, what can you do to control and make use of our nervous energy?
Relax and take deep breaths, slow down your breathing, get it rhythmical. Quick, shallow breathing can make you feel more nervous, says Featured Speaker Nancy Daniels. It’s like a vicious cycle. However, if you breathe slowly from your diaphragm, you can fool your body into calmness, while improving the sound of your voice.
Remember adrenaline is causing your physical effects. Your body is giving you an extra kick of energy, so use it to your advantage. Change your mindset around what you are feeling: You are not nervous, you are excited!
Identify and control your “comforter” movements. Root your feet to stop from pacing or swaying. Pay attention not to fidget with your hair, ring, pockets, etc. All these things are nervous habits that can distract you and your audience from what you have to say.
Take baby steps toward mastering it. “Small increments and small successes create an environment where confidence can be learned at a rate that’s comfortable for the learner,” says Featured Speaker Marilyn Wolf. “That confidence allows and encourages the learner to try a little more next time.”
Fear of speaking need not paralyze you. So start small. Speak in front of one person, then two, then five. Grow your audience at a rate that is comfortable to you so that you’ll get those wins that will build your confidence.
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