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David Baxter

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Fear of public speaking: How can I overcome it?
by Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., Mayo Clinic
March 24, 2009

Fear of public speaking is a common phobia. It can range in severity from slight nervousness to paralyzing fear and panic. Many people with a fear of public speaking avoid public speaking situations altogether, or suffer through them with shaking hands and a quavering voice ? after a night of tossing and turning and worrying. But in most cases, a fear of public speaking can be overcome. These steps can help:

  • Don't avoid it. This doesn't mean you have to jump right in and do a major speech or presentation. It does mean that to overcome your fear you'll have to face it and take gradual, deliberate steps to gain confidence and skills. If you avoid speaking situations and approach the ones you have to do with dread and without careful preparation, your fear of public speaking won't improve. It may even become more difficult.
  • Know your topic inside and out. The better you understand what you're talking about, the less likely you'll make a mistake or get off track. And if you do get lost, you'll be able to recover and quickly get back on track.
  • Get organized. Have the information you want to present carefully planned out ahead of time, including what you want to say, and any props, audio or visual aids you'll use. The more organized you are, the less nervous you'll be.
  • Use audio and visual aids ? for yourself, and for the audience. There's nothing wrong with using an outline on a small card to keep yourself on track. Likewise, using audio and visual aids such as slides, flip charts and video segments can take the focus off you ? and put it onto the material you're presenting.
  • Practice, and then practice some more. Practice your complete presentation several times, until you're completely comfortable with it. That way you won't forget something or suddenly wonder what's supposed to come next.
  • Practice in front of people you know. Do your presentation for a few people you're comfortable with. Ask them to provide you with constructive feedback. If possible practice in the same location you'll do your presentation.
  • Know your audience. Clearly identify what they expect to learn from you. If there are likely to be questions, take some time to consider what they may cover and have your responses ready.
  • Double-check the room setup. If you'll be presenting, make sure you're familiar with the lights, sound system, projector, computer and any other technology you'll be using. Make sure everything's working properly.
  • Relax. As simple as it may sound, learning some specific steps to help you relax can make a big difference. For example, before your presentation, take deep, slow breaths. Close your eyes and visualize a calm and successful presentation.
  • Focus on your material, not your audience. People are primarily paying attention to the information you're presenting ? and not how you're getting your message across. Chances are they won't even notice your mistakes or nervousness.
  • Trust your audience. With few exceptions, your audience will be rooting for you and will want your presentation to go smoothly. If they do notice you're nervous or get a little off track, they won't judge you. Public speaking is challenging, and people realize that. It's likely every person in your audience has experienced the same nervousness at some point.
  • Don't be afraid of a moment of silence. If you lose track of what you're saying or you begin to feel nervous and your mind goes blank, it can seem like you've stopped talking for an eternity. But in reality, it's probably only been a few seconds. Even if it's longer, it's likely your audience won't mind a pause to consider what you've been saying.
  • Recognize your success. Your presentation or interview may not have been perfect, but chances are you're far more critical of yourself than your audience is. Give yourself a pat on the back, and think about the fact that you've accomplished one more step on the road to becoming a confident speaker.
  • Get support. You aren't alone in your fear of public speaking. There are nonprofit and commercial groups out there to help you learn and practice the skills you need to overcome your fear and become the effective, confident speaker you want to be. One effective resource is Toastmasters, a nonprofit organization with local chapters that focuses on training people in speaking and leadership skills.
If you can't seem to overcome your fear with practice alone, your doctor may prescribe a calming medication that you take prior to public speaking. For example, beta blockers (usually used to treat high blood pressure and certain heart conditions) have been shown to help. Ideally, you should try this medication before you use it for a speech so that you know how it affects you. Another approach that may help is to see a counselor who can help you come to terms with your fear of public speaking.

Nervousness or anxiety in certain situations is normal, and public speaking is no exception. Known as "performance anxiety," other examples include stage fright and writer's block. However, people with severe, debilitating performance anxiety may have a disorder known as social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder). People with social phobia often have more than one type of performance anxiety, and may even have depression or anxiety disorder. Social phobia may require treatment with medications, counseling or a combination of the two.

References
  1. Tips & techniques. Toastmasters. Accessed Feb. 12, 2009.
  2. Powell DH. Treating individuals with debilitating performance anxiety: An introduction. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2004;60:801.
  3. Hollander E, et al. Anxiety disorders. In Hales RE, et al. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2008. Accessed Feb. 12, 2009.
 

Jazzey

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Practice, and then practice some more. Practice your complete presentation several times, until you're completely comfortable with it. That way you won't forget something or suddenly wonder what's supposed to come next.

And never in the same order of the presentation. Otherwise it's so well rehearsed that, if you miss a word, it may affect your recall on the remainder of the presentation...in my experience. :)
 

Retired

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I always like to visit the venue (when possible) to be acquainted with where things are. I find this helps me to remove but one distraction of noticing features of the venue during my presentation.

It also allows me to check the microphone, and other technical materials I will use, and to get a feel for the room.

My rehearsal is done outloud, either in my office, my car or someplace where I can hear myself say the words.

As for body movement and body language, I like to watch professional broadcasters and politicians with the volume muted. This technique can demonstrate what looks effective and what looks artificial and contrived.

Effective body language can be a powerful supportive tool for any presentation.

I feel a very effective public speaker these days is Mr. Barack Obama. Listen to his intonation....and watch the body language. The last politician I saw with that kind of effective style was John Kennedy!
 

emofree

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and i think that speaking in front of a mirror also helps you to boost confidence in public speaking. and your right about speaking in front of a lot of friends that you know can also help you out.
 

BattleBack

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I've spent some time on stage and while being in front of a crowd of strangers, so long as the physical seperation is clear, doesn't bother me personally, I have had to help other friends get over 'stage gitters'. Seems the most helpful thing, generally, I said to them was that the real truth is people are not sitting there waiting for you to fail. It's totally opposite. They WANT you to do good. Their presence is a little vote of confidence in you BEFORE you've said a word. So you're speaking to a supportive, positive group in advance. Most people are not sitting there waiting to pick you apart.

Also, audiences respond to how you feel about what you're saying and how you say it. If you can quickly find a few friendly faces looking at you, first speak to them and then slowly move your gaze in different directions after you've started and the pressure's lessened. If you can speak to them in a relaxed manner and smile occasionally or, particularly appealing, crack a joke against yourself ( self-effacing ) will help make a quick connection between you as a human being and themselves as human beings.

Most people have experienced the stiff, monotone, white-knuckled-podium grabbing gal or guy who bores you to tears within minutes. Now with wireless mic headsets, you don't have to confine yourself to standing behind a podium. You can stroll back and forth across the stage. So things are even more conducive to positive feedback from your audience.

If you know your material and have an interesting presentation, you can often draw the audience in pretty quickly. But it's a lot better if you are relaxed and use vocalizations in the same way you would speaking with your friends in a restaurant or at home.

The relationship between speaker and audience is pretty symbiotic in a lot of ways. Knowing what that means to your favor can take a lot of that uptight posture away.
 

Murray

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I just agreed to a speaking engagement in a couple of weeks and am now wishing I could take it back. For ages I have been refusing to do this stuff because I have such a hard time talking to people at all, let alone to groups. But, people keep telling me it is time for me to just get over it and start to do these things. I have a rather large engagement that I got roped into for next year, so I figure that I need to start working on this now rather than waiting until the last minute. So, maybe by starting with some smaller local venues I can gain some confidence. Of course, I could really screw up and just confirm why I don't do these things, but I am trying to be positive .

I will think about trying some of the things suggested above. I couldn't imagine practicing in front of anyone, though. I would prefer if no one that I knew would ever see me attempt to give a talk, I would feel so ridiculous. One of my employees said that she wanted to go see my presentation, but couldn't make it. I was so relieved. The thought of facing her at work the next day would be unbearable. I just keep telling myself that the attendees want me to succeed, that they aren't looking for me to fail.

Anyway, just wishing that I could cancel this engagement, but it would really anger everyone if I did that.
 

adaptive1

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I was looking for some threads on this as a refresher. I have had to do a couple of these lately. I hate how nervous I get and my voice breaks and my hands shake and I start talking so fast that I trip over my words. by the time I stop to slow down my mind is in overdrive and I dont even know what I am saying. I try taking deep breaths before I go on, I give myself a positive pep talk and tell myself I am fine and I practice in my mind but I always choke. I hate it, I was considering bringing a shot of alcohol with me next time and i dont even drink but maybe it would help. Woudl that really be so wrong if it calmed me down? How do you get your body to listen to your mind, does anyone know?
 

texasgirl

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When I was working I had to give many presentations - at both large and small meetings, sometimes in front of very hostile audiences. I, too, tripped over words, lost my train of thought, even fell down and knocked my props (architectural drawings) all over as I fell across the stage. In any case, the thing that helped me best in those days was being able to touch something - a podium, a mike, a pointer, anything that I used to "ground" myself. When I got nervous, I would sometimes ask for questions to engage the audience (people a lot of the time are dying to ask questions). I can honestly say I was never comfortable doing public speaking (unless I was teaching a class), but find little "tricks" that work for you really do alot to lessen the fear.

I haven't worked for a while now but I would like to get back someday to having the ability to maintain my thoughts cogently like I used to. I am moving slowly back into helping at the shelter so that maybe someday I can go back to work. It seems like my previous life happened to somebody else! I wish everyone luck on overcoming their fears associated with public speaking. It also helps to know that probably 99% of your audience is more scared than you are to speak publicly and are just glad it's you up there and not them!

Take care,

TG
 

Daniel

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How to Look and Sound Confident During a Presentation

Take time to pause. Most people use filler words because they’re afraid of silence. It takes confidence to use dramatic pauses. A pause is like the period in a written sentence. It gives your audience a break between thoughts.

A recent story in the New York Times, for example, calls attention to the silence in between notes of a classical music piece, explaining why short pauses draw so much attention. As social beings, we are hard-wired to pay attention to breaks in the flow of communication. “We recognize the pregnant pause, the stunned silence, the expectant hush,” the author writes. “A one-beat delay on an answer can reveal hesitation or hurt, or play us for laughs.”

Pauses are interpreted as eloquence — in music and in public speech. A simple way to learn the power of the pause is to choose one or two phrases in your next presentation that express the key message you want to leave your audience with. Pause before you deliver those lines. For example, “The most important thing I’d like you to remember is this…” Pause for two beats before you complete the sentence. Whatever you say next will be instantly memorable.
 

Daniel

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Don’t Just Memorize Your Next Presentation — Know It Cold

Don’t only rehearse from start to finish.

Most people start at the beginning each time they practice, resulting in an unevenly memorized script; the introduction is solid, but the conclusion is shaky. Instead of learning your script in sequence, start at a random section and complete from there. Then stitch it together. Keep in mind that movement helps commit more words to memory. If you’re going to deliver your talk standing up, don’t sit down to rehearse or memorize. I will often mark out a mini stage and walk across it as I would during the actual speech. Associating a section of the speech with a place on stage is a memory aide. It may be useful, too, to practice your speech in the exact outfit you’ll present in, including shoes. Constantly fussing with an awkward piece of clothing mid-speech can be distracting both to you and your audience.
 
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