We’ve all experienced it: you have to give a presentation and you’re stressing about getting up in front of a room full of people. What’s the first thing everyone always says? “Just picture your audience naked,” they’ll tell you with a chuckle. While that can work for a few people, for many, a fear of public speaking is no laughing matter. Studies have shown that some speakers can’t even calm down after beginning their speech: instead, they become increasingly more nervous as their lecture goes on. For these people, even presenting their ideas to a small group in a workplace meeting can be a harrowing experience.
It’s no secret that glossophobia or fear of public speaking is the number one fear reported by people in the United States. This anxiety comes from a worry about being judged and often has origins in social anxiety. Speech anxiety has increased in today’s cyber-world of communication where we are often “faceless” and can remain relatively anonymous by sending emails or texting instead of speaking directly to people.
Tips for Overcoming Speech Anxiety
For many people, a fear of public speaking can often be helped by learning a few skills:
- Know your topic: the more you know about your topic, the less you will stress if you accidentally lose your train of thought or make a mistake.
- Practice your speech: go over (and over) your presentation in front of a supportive friend or coworker (videoing yourself can also be helpful). Have them ask questions about your topic so you are prepared to give answers. Also, ask them for feedback and consider making any changes they might suggest.
- Visualize a successful outcome. Mentally picture yourself being announced, approaching the lectern or stage, smiling at your audience, presenting your slides or PowerPoint images. See yourself being congratulated for your ideas and shaking hands with the admiring people you’ve spoken in front of.
- Be prepared – organize your slides or handouts, listen to any audio clips, and run through your presentation from start to finish so you can see how it “flows.”
- Bring water with you to the podium in case your mouth gets dry or you need to take a quick pause to regroup.
- Clasp your hands together or stand with your knees slightly flexed to help keep them from trembling if you are nervous and shaky.
- Take a few deep breaths and smile (even though smiling is probably the last thing you’ll want to do!). Deep breathing helps you relax and studies have shown that smiling can help lower your heart rate and aid in physiological recovery after stressful situations.
- Focus on your material instead of your audience.
- Keep in mind that audiences will generally sympathize with a nervous speaker, so try not to worry about appearing uneasy or anxious.
- After your speech, mentally congratulate yourself for putting yourself up there in front of everyone! Write down some of the positive aspects of your lecture (did you remember to make eye contact with your audience or toss out statistics without a mistake?). Focusing on the positives will help keep you from over-analyzing any slip-ups you made (even world-class speakers make mistakes!).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Public Speaking Anxiety
In many cases, the apprehension we experience before giving a speech can be used as a way to focus: in our nervousness, we go over and over the points we want to make and read through our notes repeatedly which helps ingrain them in our memory. For some individuals, however, instead of focusing on the details of the presentation they are about to give, they will zero in on their own physical symptoms and won’t be able to settle in once they’ve begun to talk. They’ll turn their attention to how their hands are shaking or how nauseous they are and they’ll become progressively more anxious as their lecture goes on.
Often, they end up carrying that anxiety over after the speech ends, too, so they stay keyed up instead of relaxing – even to the point of becoming physically ill. For these people, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) done through a licensed mental health professional can help quickly identify and challenge inaccurate or negative thinking. CBT can often provide coping mechanisms that can help them gain confidence and overcome their public speaking anxiety.
Keep in mind that not everyone who benefits from cognitive behavioral therapy has a mental health condition. In the case of “stage fright”, CBT simply gives you the power you need to cope with a public speaking situation in a more effective and healthier way. Because CBT utilizes a goal-effective approach, it can be an effective tool to help you learn how to better manage the stress of speech anxiety.
If these tips and tricks don’t help you when it’s time for your next public lecture, it might be helpful to speak with a mental health professional like Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. For more information, call them at 561-496-1094 or Contact Dr. Rosen and The Center today.