The Book of Lists has repeatedly reported that the fear of speaking in public is the most frequent answer to the question "What scares you most?" These results were recently echoed in Chapman University's survey on American fears, which rated speaking in public among the top 5 fears Americans report. In fact, people rate speaking anxiety 10 to 20 percent higher than the fear of death, the fear of heights, the fear of spiders, and the fear of fire. As a student of mine once joked: "People would rather stand naked while on fire, overlooking a 30-story fall, covered with spiders and snakes than give a presentation." However, it doesn't need to be this way. By leveraging academically validated anxiety management techniques, you can deliver your next presentation in a confident and compelling manner.
To celebrate the recent release of my book's 3rd edition - Speaking Up without Freaking Out, I would like to provide you with five anxiety management techniques that you can employ to help you feel more at ease about presenting. To help you remember these techniques, I will use the acronym BRAVE.
Breathe. Take time to breathe slowly and deeply. "Belly breathing"--filling your lower abdomen by inhaling slowly through your nose and filling your lower abdomen --can reduce your nervous symptoms (e.g., lowering heart rate, calming your jittery arms and legs, etc.). Additionally, to quiet the mental noise that anxiety often causes, slowly count to three as you inhale and then again as you exhale. Focuse your attention on the counting. Repeat this type of breathing several times.
Recite your core message. Most people fear forgetting. One way to bolster your confidence is to make sure you know your central point well. You should be able to repeat your core message in one clear, concise declarative sentence. Say this to yourself a few times. Being sure that you know your key point will help you feel confident that you are prepared to speak. Also, if you do forget a part of your presentation, restating your central point is one way to help you get back on track.
Acknowledge your jitters. The physical, emotional, and mental anxiety reactions you likely experience prior to speaking are typical. These sensations do not show anything beyond your body's normal response to something that is challenging or threatening. Avoid giving these natural responses special significance. In fact, you can greet or accept these reactions by saying to yourself: "Here are those anxiety feelings again. It makes sense that I feel nervous; I am about to do something of consequence and importance." This type of acknowledgement is empowering and quells your anxiety response.
Vocally warm up. Being anxious can wreak havoc on your voice. Relax your voice and yourself by vocally warming. An athlete would not begin his or her sport without stretching, nor should you begin speaking with out preparing your voice. Start by drinking some warm water. Next, speak your core message out loud. Finally, repeat tongue twisters, such as "I slit a sheet. A sheet I slit. And, on that slitted sheet, I sit." In addition to tongue twisters getting your voice prepared, they also help you become present oriented so that you worry less about the future consequences of your presentation (e.g., getting the job, being funded, having your idea supported, or achieving the good grade).
Expect success. To often, speakers worry about making mistakes and messing up, rather than embracing their speaking opportunity. When you think that you have a great chance to share your ideas, you are likely to feel positive, which in turn, makes you more empowered and relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to give a good presentation. You are using self-fulfilling prophecy to obtain a positive outcome. One way to capitalize on this self-fulfilling prophecy is to use positive affirmations. Before you speak, you can silently say an affirmation you created. Affirmations should not be long sayings or contain too many concepts. Research on sports performance has found that simple, one-word mantras (e.g., focus, calm, fun) confer benefits because they eliminate overthinking and reduce negative thoughts.
It takes practice and patience, but by being BRAVE you will definitely manage your speaking anxiety and present in a more confident and compelling way.