Is your fear of presenting affecting your business? Here are five ways to manage speaking anxiety.
You have a presentation looming, and this is causing sleepless nights. Your family cannot understand why you are so grumpy and you are thinking of excuses to get out of this. (Emigration springs to mind.) You are terrified of presenting because you have had some bad experiences in the past. Once you froze and forgot what you were going to say; you could not breathe and thought you were going to pass out; your mouth went dry; you broke out in a sweat, and you noticed the audience was not listening to a word you were saying. You confidence took a severe knock. This was an opportunity to display your talent and ideas, but instead, you fell flat on your face.
Being nervous is natural. After all, we care about what people think about us and the stakes can be high. In fact, people who are not nervous at all about speaking are often unsuccessful at delivering presentations precisely because they do not care about how they come across.
Our typical reaction to stress is the fight, flight or freeze response. Unfortunately, this is not ideal when presenting. You want your stress response to become healthier.
Here are five ways to help you manage your fear
- Spend time preparing. “If you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail”. Just because you are the expert does not mean you can wing it. Chances are you will probably repeat yourself, ramble, talk about irrelevant stuff and then confuse the audience. The rule of thumb is for every hour of presenting; you should be spending 10 hours preparing. This may not always be practical, but at least ask yourself what your purpose is and what job do you want the presentation to do for you? It helps if you can summarise your presentation in one sentence, as this will force you to stay focused.
- Rehearsing is not optional. It can make an ordinary presentation extraordinary. Statistically, you should spend 50% of the time it takes to prepare your presentation rehearsing. Steve Jobs would practice for weeks before delivering a ninety-minute keynote announcing a new Apple product or service. The best way to rehearse is to say it aloud. (You could even do this on your way to work in the traffic)
- Visualise success. Visualization is simply a mental rehearsal. You can create images in your mind of a successful presentation such as your manager congratulating you, closing the deal or even a standing ovation! Repeat these images, daily for about five minutes. Sportspeople use this technique of imagery very successfully. I can personally vouch for the power of visualisation. “What happens out there is a result of what happens in your mind.”
- Breathe: We tend to “over breathe” when we are nervous. This alerts the brain to danger and then causes it to produce even more adrenalin, which exacerbates our anxiety. The purpose of calm breathing is not to avoid stress but just to take the edge off. Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly (for about 4 seconds); hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds; exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds); wait a few seconds before taking another breath. (Source: Overcoming anxiety – Support Circle) This is also a great way to relieve all stress.
- Step into your fear and look for opportunities to present and volunteer. Meetings are ideal because you can prepare and rehearse beforehand and in most instances, this is a safe environment. You will find the more you challenge yourself and speak up the more confident you will become.
Ridding ourselves entirely of fear is impossible. The trick is to learn to manage your anxiety and not eliminate it.
Mariette has 20 years’ experience as a corporate trainer and coach. Her training experience includes presentation skills, business writing skills and interpersonal skills.