Standing up on a stage and talking to an audience is nerve-wracking, no matter how confident you are in day-to-day life and even if you know your subject inside out.
Glossphobia, the fear of public speaking, is considered to be the greatest fear a person can have and it is far more common than you might think.
For some these nerves are just butterflies in their stomach, but for others it can mean voices stuttering, legs quivering, sweat pouring and hearts beating at double speed.
It doesn’t matter whether there are five people you know, or 50 people you don’t – the fear of public speaking can be crippling.
This fear can cause people to avoid it altogether which can put them at a disadvantage when it comes to opportunities both during education, in the workplace and socially.
But, getting over stage fright is much easier said than done.
First you must understand why you get scared
Speaking to Speakers Corner, psychologist Linda Papadopoulos said:“We have all developed this conscious mind where we are aware that not only we perceive ourselves but that others perceive us. If we begin to identify the third person too much – that is to stand outside and wonder how we appear to others, instead of actually engaging in the moment, whatever that moment may be, it doesn’t become something natural and fluid. It becomes something that feels contrived, something that you feel you are going to be judged or assessed on.”
It is the fight or flight response (also known as the acute stress response) when your body responds to a perceived threat or danger – either real or imaginary. The name comes from our ability to physically fight or run away from it. In these situations hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin are released, which is why you experience an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.
When it comes to public speaking some will find this adrenalin rush beneficial but most will want to flee the situation.
So, now you know why you get scared, how can you tackle it?
Public speaking isn’t something we can avoid entirely – you may find you have to do a speech at a wedding or a presentation at university whether you want to or not. Whatever the reason, overcome your fear once and going forward speaking in public will become something that you dread less and less and perhaps even start to enjoy.
Watch others speak: watch and listen to motivational speakers. They will not only help you to deal with the fear, they will also explain why you feel that way and why it is important to overcome it – many drawing on their own experiences.
Ted Talks are a great place to start – check out this one where Joe Kowan speaks about how he beat stage fright. Likewise, you might want to look up Les Brown, for one of his inspiring talks that will change your way of thinking and hopefully help you to conquer your fears.
You may also want to go to events and watch others speakers in person – watch them carefully, learn from them and maybe even speak to them after.
Prepare: you know what they say, fail to prepare and prepare to fail. If you have to do a talk, the more you practice and the better you know it, the easier it will become to deliver it. Present it to friends or family members – go over it in the mirror and say it to yourself until you know if off by heart. This will make it much more natural on the day.
Have a back-up plan: if you are prepared for something to go wrong then it won’t throw you off. Have a back-up plan where possible, e.g. notes in case your slides won’t work, and don’t panic. You are only human and we all make mistakes.
Take a drink: make sure you have a bottle of water to hand; there is nothing worse than a dry throat or a nervous cough and not being able to access water. Stopping for a drink will also give you time to gather your thoughts if you are struggling.
Use a coach: you may want to visit a coach who you can talk through your fear and help you learn to overcome it. As well as learning how to speak in public an expert can teach you how to do it with confidence.
Start small: if public speaking is something you fear and you have a big talk coming up, see if you can attend smaller events and do short, snappy talks to help you practice and gain confidence.
As well as her insight on the psychology of what makes us scared of speaking in public, Linda explained some of her tips for the day of a talk to overcome this.
· Remember to pace yourself
· Don’t wear shoes that will hurt your feet
· Wear comfortable clothing
· Focus on one or two people that are engaging with you
As one of the company’s speakers, Sally Gunnell also explained to Speakers Corner how she prepares for a talk: “I’ll often go for a walk – for 45 minutes to an hour depending on how long I’m speaking for and actually do it in my mind. I find the best way to is to have a list of five points on the side, but nine times out of ten I won’t ever use them – they are only a back up. By doing the walking that has got it into my mind.”
Don’t let stage fright put you off speaking – delivering public talks can be beneficial to you in many ways and there are ways to overcome your fears. So, take a deep breath, prepare and believe that you can do it.