You've got to give a presentation in five minutes on a topic you know well... but in front of a group you don't know so well. How do you feel before stepping in front of the group? Are there snakes in your stomach? Are your palms sweaty? Do you feel like running away?
The fear of public speaking is as old as humanity itself. Somewhere back in the day, a caveman took one look at a cave filled with his friends and decided not to tell them about the bear he chased that day.
If you can relate, maybe it's time to try a new approach. Check out these six ways to reduce or eliminate your fear of those many pairs of eyes and ears watching and listening to you.
1. Work out
We know that endorphins make us happy, and that working out can release endorphins into the brain, giving us that "I feel awesome!" sensation. But did you know this sensation can last all the way up to your speech?
Studies on the phenomenon, also known as "runner's high," have suggested that if you work out in the morning, you may feel great all the way into the afternoon. That can be a sneaky way to trick your brain into feeling good before you step onto the stage.
2. Assume the power stance
If you want to feel bold and mighty, try this out: Stand with your hands on your hips and your legs spread apart, and imagine you're Wonder Woman. Sound crazy? According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, a power stance could be the difference between feeling confident and feeling weak.
Spend 10 minutes in the power stance before your talk, and watch your suspicions of inadequacy vanish. Poof!
3. Fake it
The second part of the power stance stratagem is to take that energy and use it to "fake it" on stage. How so? Well, have you ever gone to a party after feeling tired, grumpy, and awful at the end of the workday? You still put on your biggest smile and your best shirt, and tried to make the most of it by talking with your friends. And then something strange happened: Even though you arrived tired, you became energized by the company (and the delicious hors d'oeuvres).
Going on stage and faking confidence has a similar effect. If you smile, the audience smiles back. If you pretend to be comfortable, the audience will also be at ease—and unaware of your pretense.
4. Eat right
Don't give your stomach a reason to throw a fit. Avoid caffeine, avoid alcohol, and avoid too much dairy.
Have you ever heard of the BRAT diet? It stands for "bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast," and it's what doctors recommend for upset stomachs. The reason? Each of those four items is low in protein, fiber, and fat. They are happy neutral foods that can prevent further irritating a nervous stomach.
Drink water, eat a helping of plain toast, and relax your stomach before you go on stage.
5. Give yourself a pep talk
Did you know that talking to yourself might actually be a good thing? In the case of a pre-speech pep talk, saying a few kind things in the mirror may help boost your confidence and even put a smile on your face.
Look your reflection dead in the eyes and say, "I'm a presentation tiger about to maul this speech." I guarantee that your anxiousness will subside after hearing those exact words come out of your mouth. And if not, get creative! Tell yourself all about how smart, well-rehearsed, and compelling you are.
6. Don't memorize
Consider two scenarios. In the first, you are having dinner with a group of friends and strangers, and someone asks you to tell a story about the time you went hiking in the Alps. In the second, you need to memorize a Shakespearean sonnet after rehearsing it six times, and then recite it in front of the same group. The first seems a lot easier to do, right?
Explaining something you know without the restriction of hitting each point in a certain order prevents you from the fear of forgetting or saying something incorrectly. So don't memorize your talk; let the content on the slides carry the burden of your most important points.
You just need to have a nice, pressure-free chat with your audience.
* * *
Stage fright may never be fully eradicated, but that's not a bad thing. Our natural fears prevent us from making poor decisions and keep our bodies relatively safe. A fear of public speaking also gives us more reason to prepare and practice, which in turn creates better speeches.
All that said, too much dread can detract from your message. Try any combination of those six tricks next time you need to deliver, and watch some of your anxiety crawl away from your impressive Wonder Woman pose.
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