Embrace the Fear of Public Speaking (It’s Good for You)

Public Speaking

Heart pounding. Hands shaking. Sweat dripping. Body clenching; when fear takes over, you expect to be facing something extreme: heights, spiders, death, or world-destruction.

But in fact, there is only one thing that people fear above all else –  Public Speaking.

And if those two words made you stiffen in fear, then are you not alone. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 77% of Americans are quite literally petrified of speaking in public, also known as Glossophobia.

What is Stage Fright?

Glossophobia is considered a form of social anxiety, showing up as a heightened threat response in the body when faced with the threat of social ridicule or judgment. Typically when the body is faced with a threat (of the life-threatening kind), the body increases cortisol (the stress hormone) and engages our fight or flight response (adrenal system).

With social fears, although the threat itself isn’t tangible or even realistic most of the time, the body has the same exact response regardless, putting you in an extreme state of panic.

Fun times.

Zoom Performance Anxiety

So in a world that is increasingly digital, it is also one that increasingly requires you to publicly speak – at an alarming rate.

But interestingly enough, after spending less time in person and more time on screen, the fear of public speaking is steadily increasing, so they gave it a name: Zoom Performance Anxiety.

With a shift in communication styles, many of the social cues and nonverbal communication that we rely upon to gauge our audience are gone: body language, eye contact, and engaged face in the crowd – the world has momentarily changed, and so we, the fearful and avoidant, must change as well.

How to Beat Stage Fright

In the spirit of change (and stage fright), here are six small changes you can make that are sure to help keep you alive and well next time you face the crowd:

1. Rethink stress: some of it is good for you 

The nervous, trembling feelings of stage fright are, oddly enough, the same sensations as excitement. And that’s a good thing.

According to a study by The University of California Berkeley, there is a particular balance to benefit from stress:

  • Low stress creates boredom
  • High stress gives you anxiety
  • And stress that’s just right may improve your cognitive function and performance.

In fact, moderate stress and brief stressful events were shown to strengthen the connection between neurons in the brain, ultimately improving memory and mental performance after two weeks. The right amount of stress (like a little stage fright) can help put you into optimal alertness and truly enhance your cognitive performance overall.

2. Practice Deep Breathing Regularly

Controlling your breath has historical use and is widely recognized by performers, singers, and artists worldwide for improving stage fright and breathlessness by using the diaphragm.

Engaging the diaphragm requires you to breathe deeply into your belly, inhaling and exhaling to a specific count. Controlling your breath and engaging your diaphragm can improve your tone, pitch, and carry, helping you to sound confident and feel in control.

  • To practice controlled breathing, sit, stand, or lay comfortably with your
    hand on your belly.
  • Take a long inhale to a count of five, breathing into your hand and
    expanding your stomach
  • Exhale slowly to a count of six to engage the parasympathetic nervous system (calming) and repeat

3. Get in the Power Position 

Studies now show that taking a ‘power position’ for 2-3 minutes before going on stage increases testosterone and gets you amped up!

The power position requires you to tuck away somewhere comfortable, plant your feet firmly on the ground, puff out your chest and lock your hands on your hips.  If you’re picturing Superman, you are not wrong.

The concept of power posing came to fame in 2012 by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, bestselling author, award-winning Harvard lecturer, and expert on the behavioral science of power, presence, and prejudice. Amy gave an empowering TedTalk on confidence, public speaking, and overcoming fear, which teaches the exact method of power posing and gives you a little extra confidence.

4.  Practice, Practice, Practice

You can’t always be prepared to be put on the spot, but we can be prepared for the rest.

Practicing and rehearsing out loud will not only reinforce your speech and help you retain the facts, but it will also help you feel more confident and in control of your pace, tone, and breath while you’re speaking. The more we can control our breath, the less we rush, stumble and use filler words like, ‘um.’

So in the absence of someone to practice on, we implore you to head to the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror, and practice, practice, practice out loud until you can give most of your presentation while keeping eye contact with yourself.

5. Remember to be a Real Person

It may sound silly, but when we become too focused on performing, we forget to focus on being real.  When you get on stage, address your audience immediately and become familiar. Look for a smiling face in the crowd that you can come back to if you feel nervous. Then take a deep breath, and relax your shoulders.

Use the space of the stage to be engaging and to speak authoritatively while looking comfortable and natural. Use your hands to speak with simple gestures that create emphasis (remember to move your arms, so you don’t look scared stiff).

And if you do absolutely nothing else, for heaven’s sake, smile!

Still, clenching in fear? We can help with that (and hype you up)

See Also:

The New Business Meeting: How to Adapt to a Hybrid Audience

Let’s Improve: How to Gracefully Accept Professional Criticism

4 Powerful Tips for Leaders Speaking at Events and Conferences

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