Public Speaking: How To Reduce Your Fear

Written by Brad Phillips on April 8, 2011 – 12:11 am

Earlier this week, my question of the week asked what techniques you use to reduce your fear while speaking in public. I received a wide variety of responses, ranging from tricks from the acting trade to a clever video. The diversity of your answers reinforced a long-held belief of mine.

More on that later in this article. First, here are some of the techniques you suggested:

Jay Averill wrote: “The best way to overcome the fear is also the hardest. Practice. Know your content exceptionally well and practice.”

Laurie C said: “I use a trick from learning to sing — concentrate all your tension in one part of your body (I make a fist) and then release it as you speak. Don’t tense up any other muscles. For some reason, this keeps my voice from fluttering up and down the scale.”

Rob Riordan said: “It really helps to arrive early at presentations and mingle with the audience at a break or in advance. You don’t want to be a stranger to them. Introduce yourself and make a personal connection with at least a few of the audience.”

Simon provided a link to a terrific video focused on widening your field of vision: “Given that what I do is train people to make presentations and this is one of the most common issues people come to me with, I guess I’d better chip in…this video might help.”

Leigh Ann Otte said: “One of the keys is to address [nervousness] and accept it as normal before letting it overwhelm you…use the nerves. (I learned this technique from training in acting.) I channel them into energy instead of fear.”

Matt Eventoff, a friend and frequent collaborator, wrote: “There are myriad breathing techniques and physical adjustments that will not “cure” a fear or fright, but will certainly alleviate some degree of stress when fright strikes – my favorites are here.”

Judi Hopper wrote: “I construct an image of the audience that endears them to me, making my presentation then, almost like a gift of love. I do this by thinking of them as children.”

Hope Clark said: “I get nervous before every presentation – actually published a book called THE SHY WRITER: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success…I make eye contact with one person as I’m saying a sentence. It’s a one-on-one conversation. The next sentence is with another attendee. And so on.”

See the comment section here to read the full comments.

How Can You Avoid Being As Nervous as This Speaker?

The variety of your answers reinforced a long-held belief of mine: that different people feel fear for a wide range of reasons, and that solutions don’t come in one-size-fits-all packages.

In order to help clients overcome (or more realistically, manage) their fears, I first ask them what, specifically, they’re afraid of. Their answers are often similar, but they occasionally surprise me. Only after I understand the root of their fears can I make recommendations to help the trainee address them. The client who fears looking bad in front of his boss is going to need a different solution than the person who hates getting up in front of crowds because she hates the shape of her nose.

I’ll leave you with a tip that often helps me: I imagine that the audience has had a horrible week. They are desperate for something upbeat and enlightening, so I imagine I have the ability to deliver something that improves their mood. That helps me manage my fears because the speech is suddenly no longer about me. It’s about them.

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Your answers to previous questions of the week:

Should You Ask Reporters For Questions Before an Interview?

What Should You Do When Reporters Know Something You Wish They Didn’t?

What Should You Do as a Spokesperson When You’re Forced To Promote a Party Line You Disagree With?

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