Paralyzed by Public Speaking? Help is Here

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April 27, 2016 by Harry Stoll

Before his recent spring break, my teenage son came to me with a few questions on giving a speech in his Modern Civilization course. This was a prepared 6-10 minute speech in front of an intimate classroom of 20 students.  I felt a little anxiety zip through my bloodstream and I was not even giving the speech!  I felt anxious for him giving a speech.  Indeed, fear of public speaking has far-reaching tentacles.

Gallup polls have reinforced the notion that people fear public speaking. In fact, Gallup claims 40% of people rank public speaking as the greatest fear.  Some surveys have even ranked the fear of public speaking (glossophobia) above fear of death!  Jerry Seinfeld, in one of his infamous episodes, interpreted this as meaning that while at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

We have all heard pre-performance jitters are not necessarily bad even when they feel lousy. As a salesman, I’ve learned how to have my ‘nerves’ work for me, instead of against me.  It’s perfectly normal to be anxious before giving a speech, but if you are worried your fear of public speaking will be debilitating and overpower your presentation, here are a few helpful considerations:

The fight or flight response you are feeling is your body’s reaction to fear.  It’s there to help you in case you are actually in a dangerous situation.  Take a few slow, deep breaths to calm and reassure yourself. Your audience is not a threat to you.

Actually, the audience wants you to do well—they are on your side. But if you are uncomfortable, fumbling and awkward, the audience will feel the same way. That’s why it is so important to be prepared.  Preparation is the key to alleviating a lot of your pre-speech anxiety. Don’t forget to concentrate on the purpose of your presentation.  What is your call to action? Keeping the end goal in mind will help you stay on track and curb anxious thoughts. Preparedness is often the difference between a solid speech and a flailing one. You simply cannot compensate for a lack of knowledge and rehearsal time.  I’d recommend you rehearse at least 10 times before the day of the presentation.  When you’ve put in the time and effort, you will be more confident and less anxious.  The first few minutes of your speech should be memorized and rehearsed well so you start off smoothly.

Be passionate about your topic. If you really care about the subject and focus on your message, the anxiety and panic you are feeling will melt away and allow you to inspire your audience with a strong and clear voice. Another good thing about passion is it’s contagious and will help you engage your audience right off the bat.

If you are still very anxious before beginning your speech, remember, it will be over before you know it. This can be said of most anything in life and giving a speech is no different. Knowing that something is temporary often makes it more bearable, maybe even a little bit enjoyable.

Before giving your speech don’t forget that you have an important message to deliver and the audience want to hear what you have to say. Let your readiness and passion empower you.  Don’t let a little glossophobia get in the way of changing the world one speech at a time!

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