Public speaking comes in a wide variety of flavors. You may be giving a presentation to your colleagues, talking informally to your bosses about progress. The most nerve-racking of public speaking is when you have to speak in front of hundreds or thousands of people at an event. Here we are going to cover the most effective ways of how to overcome public speaking anxiety, fast.
If you need help right now! The biggest bit of advice is to BREATH! Take a moment to be in the moment. Close your eyes and take a breath in for five seconds and then let it out over five seconds. Do this ten times. Take a moment to notice what it feels like to standing or sitting where you are. Feel the chair or ground beneath you. YOU GOT THIS!
Imagine a room full of people all facing you. It’s certainly not a natural situation to find yourself in.
The act of public speaking, by nature, is about standing out – that that can be terrifying.
I want to share with you the tips and tricks of what has worked for me over the years. Tips that I have picked up after I’ve presented at TEDx events, international conferences and keynote speeches.
There’s also no escaping the anxiety as I was MC’ing events for thousands of people during National Science Week.
There’s no getting away from it. No matter how confident a speaker you are public speaking is stressful for everyone. The worst bit is the bit just before speaking – after that, IT GETS WAY BETTER!
Public speaking is stressful
This is one fact that you need to accept before you can overcome public speaking anxiety. You’ll encounter common feelings and symptoms:
- Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy.
- Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking.
- Behavioral: avoiding situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life.
If you recognize some or all of these symptoms this blog will help you overcome the less acute ones.
However, should you find that anxiety is impacting your happiness seek out professional help:
- BeyondBlue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au
- MindUK: www.mind.org.uk
- MentalHealth.gov: https://www.mentalhealth.gov
So, here are the top ways that I have found help me combat anxiety before public speaking.
Learning how to overcome public speaking anxiety fast will be a superpower that you can call on time and time again! I know I have.
1. Prepare before you’re anxious
This is the non-glamorous part of taking care of yourself. All of this preparation advice sounds like a kill-joy parent imparting wisdom.
BUT it does work. Preparation over a long time frame is better than any last-minute fix and any self-care discipline will pay off in the long run!
These are the things that you should be doing every day to ward off anxiety – public speaking or not!
- Eat well-balanced meals (e.g. three nutritious meals a day). Make sure the meals contain plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid or reduce alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine intake. The hardest one! Self-medication is a common way we keep anxiety away. I’ve been sober for a year now and it is the most confronting thing I’ve done!
- Exercise regularly, particularly with a cardiovascular or relaxation component. I ride my bike to and from work and it is my primary form of transport. I’ve heard that yoga is an excellent form of exercise – although be prepared to be called a hipster!
- Perform regular self-care – such as relaxing activities and regular planned breaks. We can feel like we need to be all go go go! But that is not sustainable. Take time doing things you enjoy with friends and family!
- Have a good sleep routine. It depends on your age but current recommendations state that for Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours and for
Adults (18–64 years): 7–9 hours is optimal.
Looking after your health will greatly reduce the background level of anxiety so that when you are faced with a high-stress situation you’ll be much less likely to come across extreme symptoms!
Now, let’s tackle that moment where you are about to step up to the podium! This is where you can expect the biggest rush of anxiety! I know that’s where I feel the strongest feelings of panic!
2. Take a deep breath
Breathing techniques can help a lead when it comes to reducing anxiety. I know that it sounds a little bit too hippy and liberal but you cannot argue with science.
Taking control of your breathing is a fantastic way to control your physiology and reduce all of the anxiety symptoms that you are experiencing.
This has been proven to help overcome public speaking anxiety FAST. Check out this YouTube video for a guide on how to use your breath:
The more that you practice these breathing techniques the more likely you are to feel the benefit of them just as you are going up to give that big presentation.
I often use breathing techniques just as I am going up on stage or standing next to the podium while being introduced. As soon as you start speaking however, you’ll notice the anxiety drop away! I think that is because of the fact you are then focused on what you are saying – not what may or may not happen!
3. Progressive muscle relaxation
Another useful technique is to think about and isolate different muscle groups in your body. This is a two-step process where you notice particular muscle groups and then tense and relax them.
People with anxiety disorders quite often are so tense throughout the day that they don’t notice that their muscles are constantly tense. Through regular practice, you will be able to notice when a certain muscle group is relaxed or not and then use this as a cue to enter a more relaxed state.
Helpful points about progressive muscle relaxation:
- Set aside about 15 minutes to complete this task.
- Find a relaxing place where you can relax without being disturbed.
- For the first week or so, practice this exercise twice a day – it’ll become second nature.
- You do not need to be in a state of high anxiety when you do this technique. In fact, it is better to first give this a go when you are calm. That way, it will be easier to do when feeling anxious.
During this exercise, You’ll want to go through each large muscle group and tense and relax them. For example, you would go through these muscle groups in this order:
- Feet (curl your toes)
- Lower legs (contract your calf muscle by bringing your toes upwards)
- Entire legs (contract your thigh muscles while doing above)
- Hand (clench your fist)
- Entire right arm (flex like a bodybuilder while clenching your fist)
- Bum muscles (Pull your buttocks together)
- Stomach (clench your abs like a sit-up)
- Chest (take a deep breath)
- Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)
- Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)
- Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)
In the end, after a load of practice, you’ll be able to skip the tensing part and know how to just relax each muscle group.
However, tensing and then relaxing comes highly recommended as a way of you getting to know your body.
4. Ask yourself questions
Asking yourself questions to ground your thoughts and feelings can really help. Often we let our thoughts and feeling overwhelm us.
When I go up to speak I often am worried about “looking stupid”, tripping over what I have to say and, in high-stress pitching competitions, I am worried that I will not finish my story and will go drastically overtime.
These are some questions that I find help me:
- What am I so afraid of?
- Why am I feeling this way?
- What have I done in the past that proves that I can get through this?
- What is in my control or not?
Quite often the answers to these questions are so boring and benign that they calm me down almost instantly.
For example, What am I afraid of? Looking silly – don’t worry Donald Trump is president.
What is in my control or not? I can control how I deliver my speech or presentation but I cannot control what people think of me- therefore it is not worth worrying about.
5. Plan time to overcome anxiety
You would have noticed that all of the above advice can become time intensive.
Planning a little bit of worry time into your public speaking timetable can go a long way and give you the opportunity to implement some of the techniques that are discussed above.
Taking the time to devote some energy in training yourself is how to overcome public speaking anxiety FAST.
Tell the organizer you’d like some time (maybe just 5 minutes) before presenting – like out of the room or in a quiet space so do some breathing exercises. I know that I get nervous and twitchy just before presenting.
Therefore a little bit of time not sat down before I present goes a long way!
Remember to seek help if you need it and never be ashamed of reaching out if you need some advice on how to overcome the fear of public speaking!