For most people a fear of public speaking ranks in their top 3 worst fears. It is the most common of all phobias. The thought of presenting triggers a familiar wave of panic with the associated sweaty palms, churning stomach and general feelings of dread!
For most of us ‘feeling fearful’ is something that we want to avoid or move away from, however in the long run this is not the best strategy. As human beings, we are all hardwired to experience fear. Although different people will have different triggers, for all of us there will be situations in life that cause this emotion to bubble to the surface.
While we can expend a great deal of energy running from or avoiding situations that trigger a fearful state within us, an amazing thing occurs when we do stop and face our fears - it can either dissipate completely, or even be reduced to the point that it is no longer controlling us. Awesome!
So rather than letting the fear of presenting control you and or even block your professional aspirations, use the following techniques for working with your conscious mind to move into a space where you feel confident and in the flow.
1. Work with your senses - hear and see yourself present
There is no substitute for rehearsing prior to the event. When you are rehearsing work with each of your senses. Verbally practice delivering your speech out loud to an imaginary audience. Become comfortable with how you will sound delivering the material and establish the confidence that the words will flow naturally.
Once you are comfortable with how you sound, practice the speech in front of a mirror and see how the audience will see you. Most importantly, YOU will see how you look when you are confidently presenting the material. This works to establish the neural pathways in your brain that you are a confident presenter.
2. Begin with an open posture and smile
Nonverbal communication accounts for approximately 55% of the total influence of the presenter. There have been numerous research studies proving that when people maintain an open posture and smile they are much more likeable and it creates the perception that the material they are delivering is much more credible. This is especially important at the beginning of your presentation when your audience is deciding what they think of you.
By using this technique, you can win over the hearts and minds of your audience at an unconscious level. The important thing to note is that this happens very quickly in the mind of your audience.
An open posture exposes the torso and neither the arms or legs are crossed. It non-verbally communicates, respect and empathy for others and makes the presenter more likable. As I mentioned you only have a few seconds to establish a first impression and most of this will occur at an unconscious level among your audience.
An example of an open posture
For those who want to dive into this specific and powerful aspect of body language in more detail I highly recommend viewing Body Language Expert Keynote Mark Bowden at TEDx Toronto — The Importance Of Being Inauthentic.
3. Breathe to your advantage
The way in which we breathe has an intimate relationship with our emotions. When we feel anxious we breathe a certain way. When we feel angry we breathe in a certain way. The opposite effect also occurs, when we consciously control our breathing we can alter our emotions.
When we slow down our breathing and consciously breathe fully and deeply we send a loud signal to our brain that we are ok and that we are safe. The parasympathetic nervous system is triggered which is a calm and centered state. So, practice breathing slowly and deeply while you are rehearsing, this will enable you to become more conscious of your breath. You will become familiar with working with the breath in this way. You will be able to work with the breath in this way while you are presenting to create this optimal state while you are presenting.
4. Keep your delivery speed in check by breathing optimally
Breathing slowly and deeply will also help you to deliver your speech at an optimal speed. You will be able to avoid the common pitfall of delivering a speech too fast. If you do notice that you begin to speed up while you are presenting, take a moment to slow down your breathing rate.
5. Prior to your speech – anchor yourself in the present moment
The best presenters are fully anchored in the present moment while they are presenting. They are truly in the flow! To anchor yourself in the present moment, take a few full and deep breathes before you present. We cannot breathe in the past or in the future, our breath only ever exists in the present moment. So, to anchor yourself in the present moment, prior to your speaking event and to focus your full attention on the task at hand, take a few full and deep belly breaths before you present.
6. Present like no one is watching
Just like the most joy in life comes from dancing like no one is watching. Present like no one is watching, enjoy being you and allow your natural style to shine through. By this stage, you have rehearsed and you are doing your best. Be confident that this is enough and detach from what other people ‘may think’. One of my favorite quotes (although I am not sure of the origin) is ‘it is none of my business what anyone else thinks of me’. Very liberating words to live by! The truth is you will never really know what anyone else thinks as you are not in their head. Doing your best is enough.
7. Own your space
Move around and work the space around you. This will depend on your environment and what feels natural to you but avoid being too rigid. This is something else you can explore while you are rehearsing what feels right and natural to you.
8. Work with your unconscious mind
In addition to these techniques you may also choose to work with your unconscious mind to put yourself in the best position for success. Working with the unconscious mind is powerful for several reasons. Firstly, the unconscious mind is where we store all our beliefs about ourselves including our public speaking ability. We can work with the unconscious mind to clear any limiting beliefs that a person has about their public speaking ability. The unconscious mind will then be aligned to their goal of being a confident presenter and will support them in making this a reality in their external world.
In addition to this the unconscious mind does not know the difference between what we ‘imagine vividly’ and reality. We can use specific techniques of mental rehearsal to create our ideal outcome e.g., how we would like a public speaking event to unfold and prime our mind for success. Many performers and professional athletes use this technique to put themselves in the best position for delivering their best on the day of their big event.
It is possible to tap into the power of the unconscious mind and program it for success prior to any kind of speaking event. The Juicy Effect has created an online eCourse - How To Speak in Public With Confidence.