The majority of Americans are more scared of presentations than they are of spiders, snakes, falling, or flying. Jerry Seinfeld made the comedic reference that the majority of Americans would rather be lying in a casket than giving the eulogy.
In my experience, there are five major ways to overcome the fear of public speaking, known as glossophobia.
1) Proper Preparation – Going through all of the steps of preparation can cure more than 80% of stage fright. This presentation preparation includes the presenter setting goals and gearing the information to achieve them, carefully constructing the content, and practicing the presentation multiple times. One of the major reasons for stage fright is because the presenter skips one or more of the preparation steps. Skipping any of the steps allows the presenter’s nerves to build and overwhelm the person because the presenter does not know what to say.
2) Visualization – It is easy for a presenter to be overly self-critical. Attempting to be perfect is setting yourself up for failure; if you practiced enough and are comfortable with the content, you will have no problems finding the words. Your delivery shouldn’t be a regurgitation of the script. Your presentation is just as fantastic if it comes out with different wording than you intended in your practice. Visualize your success and be confident.
3) Retrain Your Brain – Your brain associates certain signals with specific events, much like Pavlov’s dogs associating the bell with food. In the case of glossophobia, the brain associates a terrible and frightening experience to being in front of others. The two events are easily connected through tightening the muscles, causing tension. Retrain your brain, associate the tension with having good experiences, so the next time you tighten your brain goes to good things rather than bad.
4) Bring Something Comfortable – The same concept as consuming comfort food when in a bad mood or a child’s security blanket can apply to overcoming stage fright. Find a small common object that you could carry with you or hold throughout the presentation to release nerves. Another possibility is to use a small object like a paperclip where you can push all of your pent up negative energy into it and away from your mind.
5) Brute Courage – Studies have shown that it takes at least 1-2 minutes for adrenaline levels to drop. Once your hormone levels drop, the front of the room doesn’t seem quite so scary. If you can force yourself to make it through that first two minutes, it will be much easier to make it through the entire presentation. You’ll actually enjoy the experience (thus retraining your brain).
Vince Lombardi said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” Of course, he was correct. The same determined attitude needed to play in a football game is necessary to get up there and do your speech.
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