Have you ever felt nervous before a presentation? You are not alone. It happens to the best of us. According to the American Institute of Mental Health, around 72% of people suffer from glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking.
It gets worse.
Remember that joke on Seinfeld? If you go to a funeral, you’d be better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
It turns out, that may not be entirely false. When researchers interviewed participants on their top fears, speaking in public actually came before death.
The good news is, that there is always a way to overcome your greatest fears (yes, even public speaking)! Below you will find three effective techniques that I practice with my clients before their big moments.
1) Redefine the Fear
Did you know that the fear is really a surge of adrenaline, and is therefore a good thing? When we are faced with having to speak in front of a crowd, the adrenaline starts flowing. It is the hormone responsible for fight or flight syndrome. Yes, it does come with its fair share of aggravating symptoms like a dry mouth, shaky knees, and clammy palms. However, it also drives your brain to work faster and makes you more energetic. And that’s not a bad thing. Therefore, focus on the great things that the adrenaline rush is bringing you. I guarantee you will start to think differently about those sweaty palms.
2) Practice, practice, practice. A lot.
In my last article, How to rehearse for your next presentation, you will find the most effective techniques for rehearsal. Practice is one of the best ways to tackle your nerves. When you do the same thing many times, it automatically sends a signal to your brain. Your brain becomes conditioned to perceive it as second nature.
A study conducted at Harvard University demonstrated the power of visualization: Two groups of participants were presented with a piece of unfamiliar piano music. One group received a keyboard and was told to practice. The second group was instructed to only read the music and imagine playing it. When their brain activity was assessed, both groups showed expansion in the motor cortex, even though the second group had never touched a keyboard.
Visualization is a valuable mental rehearsal tool that peak sports performers use regularly. Einstein had once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” In fact, Einstein’s use of this strategic technique certainly had a role in his remarkable discoveries. Take advantage of this tool and picture yourself successfully delivering your presentation. Concentrate on all the positives of your presentation. Visualize the talk, in detail, starting with your introduction and ending with the conclusion.
Many people often seem more afraid of speaking than they are of heights, jumping out of a plane – even the dreaded in-laws. However, there is a Japanese proverb that says, “Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” Replace the time you spend on worrying about the presentation with visualization, rehearsal, and redefining the fear. Then go out there and win them over!
Below I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from Life of Pi. It is by far the most precise description of fear I have ever come across. It will certainly give you a new perspective.
I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know it. It has no decency, respects or law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy – then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. Your reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons’ technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.
Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.
Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.
The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene; it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.
It was Richard Parker who calmed me down. It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare even say wholeness.