Does your mouth go dry at the mere thought of addressing an audience? If so, you’re not alone. Addressing an audience can be a nerve-wracking experience regardless of whether you are speaking to a conference hall packed with 500 people, a classroom full of your peers or just half a dozen colleagues at an informal project update meeting. Some people take to public speaking naturally, whereas others find themselves the victims of crippling ‘stage fright’.
Here are five tips to help you conquer your nerves and speak out like an Oscar winner.
Performance anxiety is also known as ‘stage fright’ and is a surprisingly common phobia. You feel as though you’re being heckled remorselessly during your speech, so much so that you end up in an argument with the heckler. In reality, it’s your own mind that’s doing the heckling, and you become so caught up in your internal wrangling, you forget about the actual speech you’re supposed to be delivering.
The following advice might fly in the face of what you usually do when you’re speaking to a group and seem to take a completely different approach, but ‘different’ is what you need. Continually doing the same thing will only achieve the same disappointing result.
In order to project your voice steadily and confidently, you need to breathe correctly; that is, diaphragmatically. This is a technique used by professional singers and it takes practice to perfect. Rather than breathing from your chest like most of us do, you must learn to breathe using your belly or diaphragm. Follow the link for a lesson in diaphragmatic breathing.
#2 Who are you?
Remember to remind yourself that the audience is not there to see or hear you; unless you’re a celebrity of course! They are just interested in what the person making the presentation has to say, and today it just happens that you are that person. It’s not personal!
#3 Accept the nerves
It’s important to understand and accept that you will feel nervous at first. That’s perfectly OK. In order to ‘keep calm and carry on’, you must learn to work with your fears and not against them. Just accept that a few butterflies and nerves are a part of the job; forget about them and focus on the speech you’re going to deliver.
#4 Channel your feelings
Harness the passion and enthusiasm you have for your subject and put those feelings into your delivery. Express yourself and your feelings for the subject and your audience will buy into what you’re saying too. If you allow that tide of passion for the topic to flood your speech, your nerves will just be swept away.
It’s really important that you have the right focus for your task. ‘Focus’ means what you’ll be paying attention to as you deliver your speech, and it will vary depending upon the nature of the event and your audience.
If you are making a presentation or giving a talk, your focal point should be the material you are using and the way that the audience reacts to it. Your aim is to ‘inform’ so you need to be in tune with their response so that you can engage and connect with them.
Stage fright will make you feel that you want to distance yourself from the audience instead of engaging with them. What you really need to do is make eye contact and talk directly to your audience. Get people involved by asking questions and try to promote feedback and get audience participation going. Your anxiety will disappear once the audience is fully involved with you, and the feeling of ‘me and them’ will vanish.
Don’t place your focus on yourself and your nerves. Keep breathing, calm yourself and shift your attention to the material you are delivering and concentrate on engaging your audience.
Many people from all walks of life suffer from stage fright to some degree. This is a very real problem, but it needn’t inhibit you in your job. Use the techniques outlined above, together with plenty of practice, to overcome your performance anxiety and develop a whole new skill to put on your CV.