How to overcome public speaking and presentation anxiety

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As a writer and as a voracious reader, I come across many articles and videos. A few weeks ago, one of these indicated that a good way to perform a public speaking or presentation engagement is to purposely act nervous in the beginning of a speech before becoming at ease and glib. Unfortunately, I just glanced at this article and because it was not important to me at the time, I did not make note of it and cannot find it now, so I cannot use it for verification nor know for certain whether or not it, itself, was a joke.

Regardless, this idea of understatement or lowering people’s expectations can work wonders for your presentation. I am a great fan of the TV show America’s Got Talent. One year, no one had much hope for Kevin Skinner before he sang–and people actually laughed at him–but he went on to win the top prize.

Two years later, Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. did the same. I have also come across an article specifically geared towards public speaking and which seems to incorporate–knowingly or unknowingly–principles of the rational system known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which can be used in many facets of life, and of which I have become a big fan. This article says that to overcome the fear of public speaking you

Face your fears

Realize the source of your fear. In very many cases, it is something outside of your control. It is not your speech itself, of which you are, will be or can be knowledgeable, but how people will react to it, how they may judge or view you, or not measuring up. The audience, however, really want you to succeed.

They have come to see and hear you speak because they want to learn and know something that they did not know before. As long as you can do that in an informative, entertaining and engaging manner (all of which are within your control) then you will succeed. I have read somewhere that the audience members of the Russian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire would often give the contestants the wrong answers because they did not want to see them win.

I am assuming, however, that you are in the more ethical areas of the world such as the United States, Canada and other places. Then, face down your fears. In CBT, a technique is called the 15-minute rule, refocusing, or dealing with cognitive distortions. In this, you think about the error (the cognitive distortion, in this case, anxiety), think about your thoughts and reactions to it, develop an alternative thought or method, and then wait 15 minutes before acting.

By this time, your originally reaction should have disappeared and you will have a more productive outcome. Of course, you cannot do this during the speech itself, but during the practice.

Be prepared

Prepare (write a detailed and complete outline of the speech, including points and sub-points of things that you want to raise); practice; and visually record your practice. Athletes, especially golfers, record their golf swings or other activities to make them even more efficient. You can, too.

Other good tips in practicing are to rehearse the speech with friends, family and colleagues who can give you positive reinforcement and/or critical praise; practice with a timer; and avoid memorizing every single word as that is only an additional problem and can heighten stress.

Relax

Breathe deeply and relax. Both of these are significant factors in CBT, and good instructions for them can be found here. Another good thing to know and to incorporate specifically in your preparation for speaking is to be aware that adrenaline (such as that produced in a new environment, such as speaking) sends blood to the fight-or-flight centers of your brain at the base of your skull. Place your hand on your forehead. Press gently on the bony areas.

This will bring blood to the parts of the brain that need it the most and which will let you present your speech in the best manner possible. Other good things to do before your speech are to exercise (take a brisk walk to help and remove your nerves); eat sufficiently while avoiding caffeine and sugar; arrive early; and perhaps most importantly and significantly, get rid of any negative thoughts and envision yourself speaking confidently and loudly, with a successful presentation.

Work with the audience

Learn to engage with the audience (and perhaps enroll in such a course); realize that (unless you are visibly shaking) people cannot see your nervousness, and that you should not over-think your audience’s reactions. These last two are perhaps related to a few cognitive distortions which can be rectified using CBT.

Other good tips are: start strongly (put your best foot forward); think of your audience as friends and not enemies; move around a little bit to not only appear confident but also be confident (you will avoid shaking); concentrate on the words, not on your anxieties; and do not apologize for any mistakes, as the audience probably was not aware of it.

I have read this, and I heard it said by one of the judges on America’s Got Talent a few years ago. This corroboration indicates that it is true. Perhaps most importantly is what you are going to say. One method is to tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you have just told them. I believe that there are many other methods but this one is the most memorable and may be the best.

Also important is how you are going to say. I have been taught that one method is to begin a speech with the least important and relevant factors first and then build up to the most important. The other method is to begin with the most important, and then wind down to the not-so-important. I think that either is a personal choice and both have pros and cons (although I prefer the latter method). However, since you may have a time constraint, the latter method could be better since you will certainly want your audience to be informed of the important points.