Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking in 3 Steps
Sweaty palms. Cracked voice. A lot of ‘hmms’. And sleepless nights. It can only mean one thing - you’re about to speak to a room of people. It’s known as the 4 am fear. The dread. The Creeping Death. It's the feeling you get the night before any presentation or public speaking, and it’s not nice. At all.
You're waking up, creating visions of everything that could go wrong. You visualise forgetting words, stumbling sentences, mind blanks, bored faces, and judgemental eyes on you. Then, you spiral and think, "I can't do this; I'm going to mess this up; I'm going to look stupid." Cue blanket being pulled up over head.
By doing this, you not only imagine something that has yet to happen but does not exist. You have spent time and energy worrying about a thing you have created for yourself in your head.
If you're reading this thinking, yes, that's me - don't feel bad. It's an ordinary habit people form to deal with the fear of public speaking. But the truth is, it's exhausting, counterintuitive and ultimately unnecessary. You fear an imaginary future that doesn't exist.
In our blog, we share 3 easy steps anyone can use to help overcome their fear of public speaking and combat the 4am fear habits.
Firstly, what even causes your fear of public speaking?
Let’s address the proverbial elephant in the room - what even is a fear of public speaking? You feel it; it’s the knot in your stomach that won’t go away. But the official word for an extreme fear of public speaking is glossophobia. Even that word sounds scary.
Your fear could stem from a combination of factors such as environmental, previous experiences or biological. The psychology around the fear of public speaking is due to a real fear of rejection, public perception and embarrassment.
You get flashbacks to being a teenager in school, being asked to speak aloud to the classroom, and you messed up your words. Or remember the last time you were the centre of attention and hated it. Or when you were publicly humiliated by that parent, teacher or boss, and you just wanted the ground to swallow you up (we’ve all been there). Our autonomic nervous system reacts to this as a threat, making us anxious and scared.
It’s a natural defence response when individuals are out of their comfort zone or feeling waves of imposter syndrome. While a common thing for many of us to feel, it’s important to flag here - we were all born confident.
Think about toddlers running about screaming and playing in public without a care in the world - they don’t feel any embarrassment. They would happily announce their toilet triumphs to the world.
We were all like that once, but over the years, through conditioning and experience, we learn ways to cope with certain situations. Some positive (confidence boost after receiving a compliment) and some negative (going red when feeling the pressure of people looking at you).
In our Powerful Presenting courses, we help people re-learn their reactions to make them more positive. We take a deep dive into the 5 reactions when presenting:
- The triggering situation
- Your physiology
- Your actions
- Your cognitions (thoughts)
- Your emotions
3 steps to overcome the fear of public speaking
At CreativeMind, we coach individuals, teams and leaders to boost confidence when presenting so we know quite a lot about the fear people feel before a presentation. So, we’ve shared our top tactics to help overcome the fear of public speaking.
1. Feel the feeling
Saying ‘I’m fine’ and pretending you're not scared is ruining your chances of delivering a great presentation. While it can be scary to ‘lean into your fear’, it’s the best thing you can do.
In a recent CreativeMind training session, someone wore a heartbeat tracker on his arm for health reasons. As he stood up to present, the alarm went off, signalling that his heartbeat went above 120 beats per minute (apparently, the only other time it went off was when his football team won the league, but that's a different story).
Through our coaching sessions, we worked on using physiological and psychological techniques to allow him to feel the feeling, ride the wave and anchor a feeling of presence and calm. He can now present with no fear and no alarm bells going off!
So the next time you feel scared about a presentation, think about this. Admit to yourself you are feeling scared, visualise that feeling (what does it look, feel and sound like in your body). Hone in on it. Breathe deeply and let it get as big as it wants. Ride the wave.
And, remember, the thing with feelings is they come and go; in their purest form, they only lasts around 90 seconds. So if you allow yourself to accept your fear, sit and accept it - we promise it’ll pass a whole lot quicker than if you keep pushing it away and pretending ‘you’re fine’.
Only when you accept your weaknesses and faults will you be able to learn how to combat them.
2. Strike a pose
Crouched over notes, frantically re-reading and memorising every line… sound familiar?
These are classic pre-presentation habits that are no good at all. It tenses us up before we’ve even started; that’s because our physical body is closely linked to the strength of our mindset.
The answer… strike a (power) pose.
Stay with us on this… Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy discovered that holding a “power pose” for two minutes creates a higher testosterone level and a lower cortisol level in our body. Resulting in the feeling of power, and reduced cortisol results in the feeling of less stress.
So as silly as you may feel, we recommend going somewhere quiet and power posing as if you have just won gold at the Olympics (Hands above head stretched out, chest out, head up, massive smile).
3. And, deep inhale
Just before you do any public speaking, we encourage everyone to do just one thing - spend some time purposefully breathing. So simple, yet so effective.
Before presenting, your mind is racing with so many things. Who's in the audience? What if I forget what I was going to say? What if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to?
The pre-presentation panic is real, but one very simple way of reducing this fear is taking big inhales of breath and out again - it will steady your nerves and calm any jitters your body is going through.
It simply quiets your mind and eases any nervous energy you’re holding onto. Follow these steps:
- Breathe in and out quickly for 30 breaths.
- Breathe out and hold for as long as you can (after the quick breaths you should be able to hold for one minute, seriously!)
- Repeat until you feel the tension ease.
If you find it easier to be guided, we recommend watching extreme athlete Wim Hoff guided breathing video.
We hope these 3 easy-to-follow steps help you overcome your fear of public speaking and a sense of calm and clarity comes over you.
If you’d like support in becoming a powerful public speaker and improving your energy, confidence, and influence when presenting, explore our courses to see what is right for you.
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