Calm down, take a deep breath. Be confident. It’s not the end of the world.
We have all heard one of these statements before stepping on a stage. They’re all well-intended, but honestly, they don’t do anything to help calm your fear. And we all know the fact that no one in the history of calming down has ever calmed down by hearing the words ‘calm down.’
At that moment, you need some practical techniques. And we at Frantically Speaking have you covered, to help you go from frantic to fearless with our list of tried and tested techniques.
These techniques, devised to help calm your fear of public speaking include- preparation, changing your mindset, redirection tools, calling a friend, reaching the venue earlier, eye contact, taking your notes on stage, doing some light stretching, and treating every conversation like it’s a speech.
Too much to take in? Let’s look at each of these techniques in-depth in the upcoming sections. Keep reading!
What Does it Mean to Fear Public Speaking or Have Stage Fright?
Stage fright is a form of anxiety, and it is caused by your brain and body mistakenly feeling that you are in danger.
Humans have evolved to be quite good at fighting or fleeing from anything that could harm us. Even when there is no actual threat, your body wants to fight, flee, or freeze, which can interfere with a variety of activities, including performance.
There is even a term for it! Glossophobia – meaning the fear of public speaking. This is obviously a more intense form of stage fright, often found in people who have social anxiety.
Symptoms like an accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, nausea, and dizziness accompany this condition.
How Common Is This Fear?
Most of us are familiar with this common quote regarding public speaking,
“To the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.’’– Jerry Seinfeld
Now that does seem a bit overexaggerated but it isn’t completely false. About 77% of the population of the world report having at least some level of fear or anxiety when it comes to public speaking.
So if you think you’re the only one who has shaky legs whenever you step on stage. You aren’t alone!
Public Speaking Fears and Covid-19
A lot of memes have been going around saying that the quarantine and lockdown as a result of the pandemic have been spaces for introverts to thrive. Mainly because social interactions and in-person presentations have shifted to the online mode.
However, the fear and anxiety that come with public speaking are still prevalent, if not worse. Alison Papadakis, Director of Clinical Psychological Studies at John Hopkins University, says that “video chat introduces ‘friction’ to social situations’’ with pixelated faces and incomprehensible voices as a result of wavering internet connections.
Furthermore, it becomes tough to understand non-verbal cues of communication like body language- gestures, eye contact, and so on. Experts even came up with a term for this – Zoom Performance Anxiety.
I remember having this experience recently when both the cameras and mics of my participants were off and I had absolutely no clue if they could understand what I was presenting. I even checked if I was talking while on mute several times because of how anxious the silence and lack of verbal cues from the audience made me feel.
Why Are We Scared of Public Speaking?
In order to manage our fears, we need to know where they are stemming from, in the first place. There are several reasons why people are afraid of speaking in public. Here are some of them:
As we mentioned before, being presented with a threat puts ou body in fight or flight mode. Hence, this hyperarousal is what makes us experience fear and hinders our ability to perform in a relaxed manner in front of the audience.
There are also studies that suggest that this response comes from evolution. As we know, people in the stone age depended widely on their groups to ensure survival in case of attacks from wild animals. Any separation from the group meant a threat to one’s own life.
When we are in a room full of people where it is us, alone, facing the audience, it creates the same atmosphere that gives rise to this fear of being ostracized or separated from a group.
For a lot of people, the fear of public speaking stems from a previously unsuccessful public speaking event that they were a part of.
Maybe an event where they messed up their speech or blanked out on their content might have had a negative impact on them. And further led them to believe that they might mess up every public speaking event.
Many people are afraid of the way their audience will react to their speech. They can’t stop thinking about what the audience is thinking about them.
For instance, Can the audience understand how nervous I am? Can they see my legs tremble? What do they think about the way I am taking? Is my accent annoying them? And so on.
When people look at public speaking as an event where their reputation, credibility, or image is at stake, then fear naturally arises. Their negative beliefs regarding public speaking and themselves as public speakers also contribute to these fears.
For instance, views like – I can never look people in the eye, I can’t remember stuff well enough, Speaking in front of a crowd is just not my thing – can also induce feelings of fear and anxiety.
Not everyone has an inherent fear of public speaking. For some of us, it arises only in certain situations. One such situation is when we have lack experience – fewer stage hours equals low confidence.
Another one might be when we are presenting a new idea and are worried about audience reception. Or, if you are to present to a new audience whose members and beliefs you aren’t familiar with.
Events that have an evaluation aspect to them might also augment fear. So might speaking to an audience who are in a higher position than you – eg, CEOs of companies, accomplished professionals, etc.
We hope this information has provided you with a background to help you understand where your fears stem from. Let us move on to the techniques so that you find one that suits your type of public speaking fear.
Practical Techniques To Calm The Fear of Public Speaking
1. Change Your Mindset
The first thing we try doing when we sense that we are nervous is to try and not be nervous. But by denying that this feeling exists, we are only giving more power to it.
Accept the fact that you are nervous instead of fighting the feeling and wasting your mental energy. This gives you the mental room to think of things to do to manage the situation.
Try focusing on how you can add more value to the audience by making your idea as comprehensible as possible. As we’ve often heard before, public speaking isn’t about you.
It is always about your audience and what you serve them. Think about your content, what you wish to teach them, and how you can keep them engaged. When you find yourself being attacked by fear, do this – find a member in the audience. Think about what you can give them in the next few minutes, focus on how you can add value to their life.
By doing this, you become communication-oriented and not performance-oriented. This means to see the event as an opportunity to share something that others will benefit from instead of seeing it as a situation where you will be evaluated and judged by others.
By perceiving it in this manner, you stop worrying about how you are delivering the message and instead start focusing on how you can get your message to the audience in the best way.
In an article by Harvard Business Review, the author suggests that when we shift our focus away from ourselves, we trigger generosity. This activates the part in our brain responsible for altruism, which in turn soothes our tonsils– the culprits of our anxiety.
2. Reach Your Venue Early
Be it an online setting or an offline one, reaching before time is always beneficial to you. When you are late, you are already at a disadvantage. This is because you will hurry to get things in place like going over your content, looking at the technicals, etc. You might even forget to check some crucial things.
When you arrive early, you give your body enough time to adapt to the environment. You can go over your notes, engage in meet and greet with the audience, do technicals check, and so on. All of this will give you a sense of being in control and aid in relaxing your nerves.
Another thing to do is to take a walk on the stage or around the place. By doing this it becomes a less intimidating space. It might sound a bit silly, but try it, because familiarity breeds comfort. And when we are comfortable, we are much more relaxed.
3. Redirection Tools
When you are up on the stage, with a hundred or so eyes watching your every move, things can get pretty nerve-wracking. You are the speaker, the one presenting, so it is natural for the audience’s eyes to be glued to you.
But you can, from time to time, give them different things to look at.
This can be done by incorporating things like videos, visual aids, props, audio clips, or music, in your presentation. You can also call volunteers on the stage for an activity, or conduct a poll, etc- while you are giving your talk.
This allows attention to move away from the speaker while continuing to engage with the audience along with moving the point forward.
4. More Familiarity
If having a familiar face in the audience helps you calm your jitters, you can ask a couple of your friends, or family members to attend your talk. Have them sit at different junctures in the audience. You can choose to make eye contact with only them to lessen your worry.
But if having people you know in the audience makes you nervous, you can ask them to specifically not attend the event (in a polite manner, of course).
Another tip on familiarity is wearing something that you feel great in. For many people, their outfit dictates their mood. If you are one of them, make sure you wear what makes you feel confident and is also event-appropriate.
You can also get your preferences – like if you prefer a collar mic or hand mic, whether you wish to stand behind a lectern or move around the stage, etc sorted beforehand.
5. Eye Contact
Before you come at me by saying if I plan on making you feel even more nervous, hear me out. You don’t have to make eye contact with anybody. You just have to make your audience feel like you are making eye contact with them.
Let me explain.
Try the ‘chin-forehead’ technique. This means looking at the chins or foreheads of your audience while you are giving a talk. Or look at the space between the seats if you are in a big auditorium.
It gives the illusion that you are making eye contact without actually doing so. And not having to actually make eye contact, will reduce your anxiety.
6. Treat Every Conversation Like It’s A Speech
Do you remember focusing on your voice modulation in your last conversation with your mom? What do you think would happen if you made sure you paid extra attention to the way you spoke in your day-to-day conversations with people?
Try to be conscious of the way you talk on a call with a friend, while speaking with your parents, or while conversing with a colleague or an acquaintance on the street.
Incorporate the same hand gestures, voice modulation, eye contact, and so on, in your everyday convos- things that you pay such close attention to while speaking on stage.
Soon, it will become second nature, and going on stage becomes MUCH easier.
7. Take Your Notes On Stage
You might feel this is such an amateur thing to do! But many professional speakers also resort to notes.
You might not even look at them while you are presenting but merely knowing that they are within a hand’s reach does help with staying calm.
And make sure you prepare your notes in such a way that you don’t have to hunt for your points in case you forget a point and have to take a glance at the paper. Write it in bullet points, condensed to the most essential parts.
In the situation where you forget your content, having these notes will avoid you from coming to a halt. You might lag behind in delivery due to that, but at least you’ll get your point across instead of going all out.
So unless it is a competition where you aren’t allowed to get your notes on stage, take them along.
8. Light Stretching
Have you ever noticed how your body starts tensing up as the hours leading up to the presentation reduce? Your palms might get sweaty, or you might clench your teeth or feel like using the loo.
Nervousness often makes us tight. And we might not even realize it until we actually engage in activities to get rid of it.
If you have some time before your speech and some space to yourself, maybe in the restroom or so, you can engage in some light stretching or tension-relieving exercises like progressive muscle relaxation. To loosen up your facial muscles, engage in emoji expressions.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily drive your nervousness away. But by doing this, you come across as looking less nervous.
This, in turn, helps you to feel a little more confident about yourself and puts you at ease.
Now, this is one of the most obvious ways to reduce stage fright. We know that. But isn’t it the most practical technique too? No matter if you perfect the above techniques. If you haven’t prepared well, you will have a constant, underlying fear.
Preparation involves everything from believing in your idea, finding the right tools to deliver it, practicing delivering it, and also preparing for what happens after you deliver it.
The more prepared you are, the less afraid you will be about going blank, nailing your delivery or your technicals. Prepare as though you are an actor, who can do nothing on the stage without having rehearsed before.
Keep in mind, being over-prepared won’t guarantee fearlessness but being under-prepared will always guarantee nervousness.
And one last piece of advice- unless you face your fears, you will never know how to manage them. So, as paradoxical as it sounds, practice going on stage more often; if you get the opportunity, go for it.
And while you’re at it, remember this- Stage fright is not something we need to overcome, but rather something we need to manage.