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Presentation jitters: fear of public speaking

You Can Control Your Fear Of Public Speaking.
Take These Cues From The Pros.

It's called glossophobia—known also as stage fright. It's a morbid fear of public speaking that many people in survey after survey rank as their number one fear. So if you're one of them, you've got lots of company. The question is: what can you do about it?

Recognize your fear for what it is.
It's perfectly normal to be anxious before getting up to speak. Once you know your anxiety for what it is, managing it and using it to your advantage then becomes a lot easier. What it is, is nothing more than heightened emotion and a sudden increase in physical strength triggered by the presence of more-than-usual adrenalin in your body. In fact, you should worry if you aren't at least a little pumped up beforehand. Some anxiety can improve your recall, raise your energy level, and make for a more focused, dynamic presentation. The trick is to learn how to manage it. So what do you need to do?

"Anxiety can... raise your energy level and make for a more focused, dynamic presentation."

Above all, prepare.
Much of the anxiety speakers feel stems from a lack of confidence. Preparation builds confidence and leads to control over fear. If you've taken all the right steps in your preparation, you'll raise your confidence level dramatically, allowing you to control your nervousness. How should you prepare?

Start with a plan.
A sound plan includes knowing clearly what you want to accomplish. It focuses you on your specific objective. (See our article, Know Where You're Going And How to Get There.)

Define a clear, specific outcome. What do you want your audience to feel, think, and do as a result of your presentation? Your objective should be specific. ("As a result of this presentation, this audience will improve its sales performance; they will feel excited about what it means to the company and to them; and they will know the exact, measurable actions they must take to achieve these goals.")

Know your audience.
Once your objective is clear, you can now find the best way to lead your audience there. Both your objective and how well you achieve it will depend largely on what you learn from your audience analysis. Get as much relevant information as possible about them. (See our article, Know Your Audience.)

Assuming you've properly prepared your presentation, you're now ready for rehearsal—the critical last phase of your preparation. Rehearse out loud repeatedly until you're able to internalize your message. If you try to memorize your remarks, you're setting yourself up to fail in case you do go blank at some point. Internalizing allows you to understand the meaning of your message. The precise words alone don't matter as much as the meaning of what you're saying. Know the meaning, and you'll find the words.

Make it a point to stand in the exact space where you'll be giving your presentation. Get comfortable with the logistics—the physical setting, the lighting, the equipment you'll be using. Better still if you can rehearse in front of a few close colleagues or others who will be in the audience. Get their feedback and consider building it into your presentation. (See our article on rehearsing.)

Visualize yourself succeeding.
Create a picture of yourself delivering a successful speech. Replay it in your mind, filling in the details. Think about it: you've done the right preparation. You've rehearsed over and over. It should follow that you're now able to look ahead to a successful outcome. After all, athletes, actors—and successful presenters—do it all the time. At the moment of truth, on the playing field, the stage, or the podium, they expect to succeed because they've covered every base in their preparation. This exercise in positive thinking will take you far in overcoming any remaining doubts or fears you may have.

On the big day.
Before arriving at the meeting, warm up. Take a walk to get your whole body moving. Get your voice ready also. There are vocal and breathing exercises to improve the power and tone of your voice. When you step up to speak, take a deep breath. Focus your eyes on someone towards the back of the room, and begin. As you speak, try to address one person at a time, turning the group presentation into a series of one-on-one interactions. Deliver an entire thought to one person before moving your eyes to the next. (See our article on eye focus.) Take a deep breath as you move to the next person. Put your breath and adrenalin to good use by energizing your voice. Gesture as appropriate to release even more energy.

While these steps won't eliminate all your anxiety, they will reduce it and help you put to good use whatever remains in the form of extra adrenalin to fuel your peak performance.

This Issue

To learn how to conquer your anxiety, attend our interactive presentation skills seminar held at our New York City location. Or you can call us for one-on-one coaching to hone your technique in private. We'll come to your location for group or individual sessions. For more information, follow the links or give us a call at 1-800-874-8278 or outside the US, +1 201 894 8200.

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