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6 ways to destroy your fear of public speaking

Supposedly people fear giving a talk in front of their peers more than they fear death. I find that hard to believe. When it comes down to it if you are given the choice between delivering a speech or sticking your head in a guillotine, you’re going to choose the speech.

But still, speaking is scary.

Even though I give 50 speeches a year, I still get nervous. Below are six strategies to help calm your nerves before your next presentation. And don’t worry – you won’t have to do anything awkward like “picture the audience naked.”

Rehearse. A lot: it’s dangerous to give a speech without rehearsing it first. If you don’t rehearse then the first time you ever give your presentation will be in front of a live audience. That’s a scary thought. Rehearsing will make you more comfortable, and strengthen your speech. It will help you find a natural rhythm and cadence. It will make you less nervous when the heat is on because you’re more familiar with the presentation.

One of the big secrets in professional speaking is that the pros rehearse their talks all the time. The late Zig Ziglar was said to practice his signature speech – a speech he had given thousands of times – in his hotel room every morning before he stepped on stage.

Personally, I put a few stuffed animals on my bed (seriously), stand in front of them, and practice saying my speech out loud to them before I deliver it for my audiences.

Create a pre-speech ritual. My favorite trick for defeating stage fright is the pre-speech ritual. Creating a ritual that begins a few minutes before your presentation will allow you to smoothly transition into speaking mode before you step in front of the crowd.

My pre-speech ritual:

  • Ten minutes before a speech I start listening to one of Girl Talk’s albums (I’m superstitious about listening Girl Talk before a speech).
  • After a few minutes, I start jumping around to raise my energy levels.
  • Two minutes the speech before I turn off my iPod and review my notes one last time.
  • As I’m being introduced I tell myself, “you’re going to be f****ing awesome”, start smiling, and step on stage.

Of course, your ritual doesn’t have to look like mine. You can go for a walk, call your best friend, joke around with a few audience members, or just about anything that feels right for you.

The real trick to an effective pre-speech ritual is to go through your ritual before you rehearse. Performing your ritual before rehearsals will create the habit of calmly transitioning into your speech.

If you’re nervous, admit it to your audience: admitting that you’re nervous is wildly humanizing and likable  It quickly wins the audience over. Everyone has been nervous before a presentation and when you admit that you are, suddenly everyone in the room can relate to you. They’ll start rooting for you because you were honest and because they can see themselves in you.  You create a connection and find a groove.

Understand that the audience wants you to succeed: presenters often believe that the audience they are addressing is judging them and being critical of every mistake. In reality 99.9% of all audiences in the world are very friendly. They know how hard it is to give a speech and they want you to succeed.

Would you prefer, a speaker who bombs or a speaker who succeeds? No one wants a speaker to bomb. Your audience is rooting for you. Keep this in mind to help quell your nerves.

Before you go on, find stillness: if I am particularly nervous before a speech or presentation I’ve learned that finding stillness in the moment will calm me down.

I find the mirror and stare straight into my eyes (yeah, I know, kind of weird), focus on my breathing and take a few deep breaths. What I’m trying to do is ground myself in the moment because when you draw yourself into the moment you calm down and realize that giving a speech is no big deal.

Grounding yourself will lower your heart rate and trick your nerves into chilling out.

Of course, you don’t have to stare at yourself in the mirror. Do what works for you. Some speakers will meditate, pray, recite affirmations, or have a cup of tea to draw themselves into the moment.

Reward for yourself for after your speech. After you give a presentation, be sure to give yourself some sort of reward. In the short run this will give you something to look forward to and will help pull you through the experience. In the long run, rewarding yourself after every presentation will create a mental association between speaking and pleasure. Over time large parts of your fear will melt away.

For most people, speaking is terrifying. But it doesn’t have to be. Use the six strategies above to help calm your nerves and deliver an amazing presentation for your audience.

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