Photo courtesy of Nikki Stone.
If you break out in a cold sweat or even feel butterflies when you think about standing in front of others for a presentation or interview, you are not alone. Fear of public speaking is estimated to affect 75 percent of adults. Rethinking the way we perceive stress may actually improve our physical and mental performance. It may be easier to give in to our fears, but you will accomplish much more in life and feel a greater sense of pride for facing them.
For some people, with just a little effort they have the ability to conquer these fears. For others, it takes a lot more work and some tips or tools for masking these mental pressures. I understand the need for these tools all too well because I myself was an honorary member of the latter set of individuals and worked tremendously hard to make it look like I'm a member of the former.
In the past 19 years as a speaker, I've found that there are five tools I've used to demonstrate the strongest level of confidence when I'm on the stage. Regardless of whether I'm in front of a few business clients or thousands of audience members, these five tips have helped me communicate presentations that I can always be proud of.
1. Get the audience laughing.
In my experience, I've found that opening with a joke always starts a speech off in the right direction. It immediately lightens the mood in the room and helps me relax. There is something about looking out in the audience and seeing smiling faces that helps create a bond -- particularly if I can get the audience to join me in laughing at myself. Laugh at yourself is incredibly self-deprecating, and if you get others to join you in that laughter, then it creates a level of trust. The laughter allows your attendees to break down the wall that forces them to see themselves as vastly different from you.
2. Focus on people who are nodding.
When you feel like you aren't connecting with your attendees it can be extremely nerve wracking. And your nerves can be taken to a whole other level if there are people who appear completely disinterested. You can often look out in the audience and find a few people who are nodding along with your story or points. There is a real sense of reassurance when someone is agreeing with you. And the more you focus on these individuals, the more confident you sound. And the more confident you sound, the more people you attract. Part way through your talk, you could likely find a room full of people nodding along with you or sitting on the edge of their seats hanging on your every word. All of a sudden, the nerves are gone.
3. Be expressive with your emotions.
When I first started speaking, I can admit that I was nervous. I watched videos of my speeches and realized that I sounded AND looked nervous. There are times that no matter what you tell yourself to calm your concerns, it just doesn't work. Anxieties aren't always the easiest thing to quell. I realized that I was just more prone to tensions when I kicked off my presentations. I often couldn't stop the tensions, but I found that I could hide them. Playing up my emotions by really getting into the excitement of my story or working to honestly feel the disappointment I had experienced, I was able to mask the jitters. It's much easier to hide one emotion with another than it is to hide an emotion by suppressing it.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
There are many people that believe that speaking is something you are good at or not. I have learned through personal experience that speaking is something you can build up -- but, you have to be willing to put in the time. When I started speaking I realized I needed to work on my skills so I went to 100 different Rotary clubs around the Los Angeles area and offered to speak for free if I could place a video camera in the back of the room. After each engagement, I'd review the videos to see what I could improve. Just as in school, sports and business, the more I practiced, the more confident I was and the better I'd perform. As an aerial skier, I would do my jumps hundreds -- if not thousands -- of times before I would perform a maneuver in competition. I realized that speaking should be no different. With more and more practice delivering speeches, I could visibly see my performances improving. And you can't help but gain self-esteem with the more experience you have.
5. Be prepared if you make a mistake.
One of the most important lessons I learned as a speaker actually came from late-night TV. I saw an interview with Johnny Carson and he confessed to preparing a joke that he'd keep on hand if and when he made a blunder. No matter how professional someone is and how long they have spoken, everyone makes mistakes. And the mistakes actually make people appear more human and come across as more relatable. But, when we become uncomfortable with slip-ups and gaffes, then our audience becomes more uncomfortable as well. As I shared in my first tip, laughing at ourselves can put everyone at ease. So try preparing a comment like, "I guess those swan dives off our family loft as a child did have its repercussions." It helps you suppress some of your speaking fears when you know you have one or two "get out of jail free" cards on hand.
So no matter if speaking is your number one fear or you just want to come across with more confidence, the cold sweats and internal butterflies will soon be a thing of the past.
Motivational Tips and Tools:
As an Olympian, best-seller, inspirational speaker and Biggest Loser motivational expert, I'm often asked for tips, tools, quotes and activities to help people reach their goals. I like to end all of my blogs with short tools that are driven from actual advice I've shared.
This week's tip:
Confidence comes from within and no one can create it for you. You won't build confidence if you don't take action. Know that making yourself uncomfortable a couple times will help you feel more comfortable in the same situation forever after. The people who actually look the most awkward are the ones who are afraid to try.
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