Your heart starts pounding, your neck and shoulders begin to tense up, your mouth and thoughts quickly dry up, and you rapidly begin to wonder whether or not you've gone completely insane.
Because why the hell else would you have agreed to do this?
If that sounds about right, you're in heavy company. I'd estimate just about all of humanity has felt or feels this way. [A pure data-driven estimation. Certainly not making stuff up 😛 ]
Here’s the thing, how you respond to those wretched symptoms will determine how long they continue to hold you hostage in future speaking opportunities.
The default reaction by most people is to resist. And you wanna know the best way to resist experiencing those symptoms? Avoid them entirely. That’s the ultimate form of resisting. Not a good option...
There’s also another type of resistance. To fight against and resist the fear internally, yet go through with it, anyway. It’s like when you were forced to do chores as a kid. Sure, you’d do it, but you’d hate it at the same time. A nobler form of resistance, yes, but also not a good option.
By resisting the fear you are planting a deep, demonic seed in your mind. In a sense you are feeding the fear and giving it more control over you, and the result is you become even more nervous! Fear has a disgustingly large appetite…
There is good news, though. You can engage in public speaking without experiencing an acute sense of internal death.
When fear strikes before your next speech, do these things instead of resisting it:
1. Accept it instantly
Tell yourself that you LOVE that feeling.
A friend of mine that I met through Toastmasters, Pete, gave me some great advice about Table Topics (this is an exercise for impromptu speaking where you get assigned a random topic that you must speak about on the spot). He told me to say the following right after hearing the question or topic that I’d have to speak on: “I love that question!” or “I love that topic!”
Pete probably didn’t mean that we should say it aloud, but I’ll let you decide.
He explained that the brain would function better this way and would go to work trying to think of reasons why you liked the topic instead of mentally fleeing it in the form of panic. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? Would you rather do something that you enjoy? Or something that you fear or despise?
He also referenced some science behind this although I can’t remember the specifics. Just take mine and Pete’s word for it. If this helps, we once contemplated banning him from participating in Table Topics because he won nearly 100% of the time.
2. Don’t resist it...
What I mean by this, though, is don’t fight yourself. I used to get frustrated with myself because I would get nervous. That mindset does not help alleviate nervousness. Not one bit. It just made me nervous AND pissed off. Probably not the best way to start a presentation when you’re trying to get the audience on your side.
3. Be genuinely happy that it works
Imagine you’re hiking in the forest and you encounter a full grown sasquatch. Would you rather be calm and casual with that thing and invite it over for tea? Or, would you rather your body’s survival system juice your ass up for the fight (or sprint) of your life? I’d prefer the latter.
4. Change the name
If you continue to call it “fear” or “nervousness” then your mind will continue to perceive it as such, and it can even strengthen it in your mind. Over time you can lessen your reaction to it by replacing “fear” with a euphemism. What if you called it “excitement” or something cool like that? Maybe “energy” or “magic fairy dust”?
Also, same goes for when recalling past experiences when you were “excited.” Don’t think back to your previous time that you “were scared.” This also feeds the fear and will reinforce it the next time you speak.
How about “the tickles”? I’ll keep trying...
5. Think of it as an opportunity
When the butterflies swarm in your stomach, that’s your opportunity compass letting you know that there’s an opportunity for growth. If you take it, you grow. You don’t take it, you don’t grow. Simple. Listen to your compass.
6. Tell yourself that it’s completely normal
Remind yourself that it’s very likely that only sociopaths have never experienced nervousness before speaking to a group. If you’re a sociopath then chances are you don’t need to be reading this article any longer, so get outta here! (in a Bostonian accent like this video).
7. Distance yourself
Separate yourself from the fear; it’s not you. Treat it as if you were an outside spectator---a neutral observer. When you start to experience the symptoms of scaredy-cat syndrome, say to yourself, “Interesting, my body actually thinks that I’m in some sort of real danger. It even activated the the survival system. Haha, silly body. There’s no life threatening danger here.”
It shines light on the entire situation causing it to loosen its grip on you. It’s almost as if it could only operate if your were oblivious to it. Put these sensations under a microscope and call it like you see feel it.
All of the 7 techniques are forms of acceptance.
The trick is to find a method that allows you to take the fear and transform it into something acceptable to you. This is the peaceful alternative to all out mental warfare.
Remember, resistance is futile.
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About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life. In less than a year since, I’ve started this website, Tactical Talks, competed and won 3 separate public speaking contests, wrote a book, and spoke at one of the top universities in southern California (SDSU).
And look, I’m not telling you this to “show off.” My purpose is to show you that it’s possible to start doing the things that YOU want to do. And that’s my goal. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.