Communication Skills, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking

3 Top Tips To Curb Your Public Speaking Anxiety

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“The nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them.
Well, I can’t speak.”

-The King’s Speech, 2010.

The King’s Speech is a powerful, inspirational story of the impromptu and unexpected rise of Prince Albert to the throne of King George VI. The story unfolds as an extraordinary speech therapist helps a stammering, unconfident man with severe public speaking anxiety (and general life anxiety) to become worthy of the throne, by focusing not on the physical aspects of his speech, but on the emotional and psychological aspects that underpin his condition.

The film evokes enormous empathy from the audience, for the man who finds himself unexpectedly, and unwillingly thrown into public life. Because we’ve all been there – we’ve all felt the dry-mouthed, heart-thumping public speaking anxiety prior to presenting any important message. It is the most memorable fight or flight feeling that any human can experience.

But how do the best speakers overcome such anxiety to deliver with confidence and grace?

We’ve produced two useful videos about just this topic. In the first of our videos, I talk about misplaced attention – or, how to remove the attention from yourself and onto your audience to calm your nerves. I also give some tips on how to reframe your thoughts to be more productive and less nerve-wrenching. Here’s the gist.

It’s not about you, silly!

Anxiety is the enemy of service, because it narrows your perspective. Have you ever noticed when you’re over-anxious about something, your whole world becomes about that one thing, shrinking everything else into the background? What if this doesn’t go well? What if I forget what I am trying to say? What will everyone think of me?

Fun fact: presentations are, in fact, not about you. They are about your audience. When you divert your attention to thinking about what your audience needs most, and what you can give them, you can more easily turn nervous to service and position yourself mentally as a facilitator of their well being, rather than the person with the target on your back.

Here are some tips to help you divert attention away from your nervous and into audience service instead:

  • Do some audience research. Find out what they are hoping to gain from your talk. This kind of outcome-focused approach helps to calm your anxiety and shift your perception of what your presentation is about.
  • Arrive early and have a chat to a few audience members – get some allies in the audience to help you feel connected. You could even use some of their stories in your talk to frame your points. Either way, the point here is to understand the audience truth – that they are on your side.

The second tip I give away in this video is about labelling your thoughts more productively – or changing your overall perspective.

Manage your thinking more productively

Again, the public speaking anxiety we feel prior to a presentation narrows our perspective. You can actually use some visualising techniques to broaden your perspective and calm those nerves. Here are a few neat tricks.

  • Imagine a view from the balcony. Take a bird’s eye view of the audience – to get literally, a different perspective. See yourself on the stage or in front of the audience. This helps to bring you out from your internal perspective, to see the whole picture, and can have an extraordinary impact on your nerves.
  • Think of your talk as a chat, or a conversation – a sit at a table with a few people where you’re imparting some useful information. This can take you away from the pressure of delivering to a large group, and again just focus your perspective on service, rather than performance.

Here’s the video that describes the techniques.

In part 2 of this video series, I give some clues about confidence building postures that help you calm your anxiety in presentation environments.

Stand tall

There is a physiological aspect behind confidence. Not only does your posture send a message to your audience about your confidence level, it also sends a message to your own brain about your confidence! Social psychologist Amy Cuddy struck a chord in the business world at TEDGlobal 2012 when she gave a talk about the scientific evidence behind ‘power posting’.

This primal approach can be seen in the animal kingdom as we see puffed out chests and limbs signalling dominance and power. It is about making yourself feel big, not shrinking yourself down into a nervous ball.

Check it out here:

Try it next time you’re feeling low in confidence or security. Make your body big, stretch out, put your hands on your hips or lean your hands on a desk in wide formation. Notice how it makes you actually feel less inhibited, and brings on the confidence you’re ‘faking’.

We shouldn’t let nerves let us down when people need to hear something important from us. I hope this post has helped you shift your perspective, your mind and your body to convey and feel more confidence when presenting.

Now you’ve got your nerves under control, why not perfect your communication skills by signing up for our Mastering Communication Training Program? Learn to confidently deliver your message with influence and impact in any context with our step by step methodology.

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional development with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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