Five Tips for Conquering Speech Anxiety

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Conquering Speech Anxiety

Do you fear public speaking more than anything else?

More than spiders? More than heights? More than losing your phone?

You're not alone! Speech anxiety is very real and very common.

And maybe you're worried you'll never get over this fear. After all, you've concentrated really hard on not being nervous, and that didn't work.

Well, the good news is that you can conquer speech anxiety. With preparation and persistence, you can overcome your fear. (There are some interesting theories about the evolutionary origins of human fear.)

Here are five tips to help, whether you are giving a presentation to a room full of strangers or just speaking one-on-one with another person.

Tip #1: Understand the causes of your anxiety

The first step in overcoming any weakness is to simply acknowledge that it exists. Do some self-evaluation to help you understand the reasons why you may struggle with speaking publicly.

Fear of failure? Afraid you look or sound funny? Scared of fumbling? Or maybe you tend to feel unprepared? Pinpointing the causes of your anxiety is the only way to begin to address them.

Tip #2: Breath and evoke your power

Breathing exercises will teach you how to avoid feeling out of breath and how to calm a racing heartbeat.

Tension releasing exercises will teach you how to relax your muscles and feel less "stiff" as you speak.

And some experts say that standing with your legs and arms apart from your body will evoke your sense of power, and doing this in a private space before beginning your presentation can set you up in your most powerful mindset.

Tip #3: Relax your mind

In addition to physical movements and exercises, it is important to feel mentally relaxed. One way to help achieve this is to engage in meditation or visualization exercises. By training your mind to focus on positive and pleasant images and to silence the doubtful voices in your head, you can feel more confident and relaxed.

Some sufferers of anxiety say that treating your anxiety like a physical being and telling it to "go away" can help dismiss it from interfering in your presentation.

Tip #4: Connect with your audience

Much of the fear that comes with speaking to others stems from the feeling of "me vs. them." Rather than viewing the audience as strangers or even the enemy, you should view them as your friends.

As you speak, make eye contact with the other person or various members of the audience. Nod your head in agreement and smile. If you impart a friendly, open attitude, you will get that in return.

Tip #5: Practice, practice, practice

The more you practice speaking in a variety of situations, the easier it becomes to handle them. If you are preparing for a job interview or a meeting with professional colleagues, rehearse your answers to potential questions and create a list of statements you want to make during the meeting.

If you are preparing to deliver a speech, ask some friends to be a mock audience and rehearse the speech as many times as possible. Being prepared is the most powerful weapon against anxiety.

Remember: being nervous or anxious before public speaking is quite normal. By focusing on these tips, you'll be able to speak confidently and calmly and successfully deliver your message.

Dealing With Large Audiences

Speaking in front of a large audience can be one of the most intimidating experiences. After all, for the duration of your speech, you are the singular focus of every person in that room. Who wouldn't be nervous?

Fortunately, there are a number of effective techniques to deal with the common symptoms of anxiety and nervousness caused by giving a speech.

Tip #1: Be prepared

If you're well-prepared and well-rehearsed, you can deliver your speech or presentation with confidence. If you're confident, you're less likely to be overly nervous. Remember, it's natural to feel slightly nervous or excited before appearing before an audience, and this energy can be channeled into giving a great speech!

Tip #2: Make sure you're as comfortable as possible

Try to get a good night's sleep and avoid caffeine and other stimulants, so you're relaxed when you give your speech. You should also wear comfortable clothing. Some presenters take a quick walk before their speech to calm down. The idea is to be as comfortable as possible.

Tip #3: Use visualization techniques

Some people find it helpful to visualize a successful speech. Imagining that you're comfortable, confident, and connecting with the audience in advance can make you approach your speech without undue anxiety.

Tip #4: Control your breathing

Taking deep breaths before you start your speech can help to make you calmer. Some presenters will silently repeat a simple, comforting phrase in the moments before they begin their speech (phrases like: 'Relax, this will be fine,' or 'I'm ready,' or 'All's well').

Tip #5: Learn to manage other physical symptoms

If your throat or mouth is dry, try taking sips of room-temperature water. If your hands are shaking, keep them on the lectern or avoid making gestures. If your legs are trembling, try leaning them against the lectern. If your voice is shaking or cracking, try slowing down your breathing.

Tip #6: View your audience as your friend

Remember that your audience wants you to give an engaging and interesting speech—they're naturally sympathetic! Make eye contact with someone with a friendly face. Many presenters find themselves relaxing when they focus on talking to individuals in the audience.

Having some anxiety or nervousness before a speech or presentation is natural. By employing tried-and-true techniques for dealing with speech anxiety, you can deal with it in a positive manner. Then, in the future, you'll know that you're ready for whatever may happen—and that should boost your confidence in a "virtuous cycle."

Handling Small Group Interactions

When it comes to speaking anxiety, much of the focus is on giving a speech in front of a large audience. But many people also struggle with paralyzing fear and nervousness when speaking to one person or in front of a small group of people.

It's less common to hear about the anxiety that can accompany one-on-one and small group interactions. But the signs and symptoms of speaking anxiety can pop up no matter what the situation or how many people are on the other side of the conversation. For some, it will depend on how high the stakes are. For instance, are you interviewing with a potential employer? Or are you meeting with a medical professional who might have some life-changing news? In those instances, it would be completely normal to experience sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and jumbled thoughts. But even in lower-stakes situations, such as weekly meetings with your colleagues, nerves and anxious feelings can get the better of you.

In order to manage this type of anxiety, use the same strategies that you would use in handling speaking engagements with larger groups. Relaxation techniques , such as equalized breathing and visualization, can help calm your body and your mind. Making eye contact and smiling can lighten the mood and make awkward situations more comfortable. And, whenever possible, rehearse your answers and talking points ahead of time. The more you are able to anticipate possible questions and prepare your answers, the more comfortable and confident you will be.

MindEdge Learning offers a number of engaging courses on public speaking and business communication, which you can find here.

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