Take the Terror out of Public Speaking

Your voice waivers, your knees quiver, your pulse is increasing fast.
Your heart feels like it’s going to jump up and out of your throat
Your palms are sweaty and you may actually feel sweat on your forehead.
Your mind is struggling with what words to put out first.

No – it’s not Love – that’s another story. You are suffering from Speech Anxiety or what we refer to as – The Fear of Public speaking.

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests. I may not be able to help you handle the fear of falling in love – but I believe I can help you with Taking the Terror out of Speaking.

It’s a common thing for both the experienced and the novice speakers.
The difference is that experienced speakers know ways to control the symptoms and can appear to be confident in front of an audience.

Today I will address some of the causes of Speech Anxiety and methods you can use to manage it.

Do you recall the first day of school, a first date or the first day at a new job? These are similar situations in that you may not know what to expect and this causes nervousness.

At school and at the new job – you may have been afraid that you would fail

On the first date – a lot of things could go wrong and you may have feared being humiliated.

People fear public speaking because it is new to them, and some people fear that they may appear foolish or bore the audience.

Stage fright, butterflies in the stomach and the shakes are all symptoms of nervous energy that Public Speaking can create.

Our bodies fight this nervous energy by pumping more adrenalin into our blood stream. The adrenalin causes the heart to pump harder. The extra blood and oxygen rush to our muscles and brain. This “RUSH” is natural and provides the “extra energy” that can enable you to think and respond quickly.

Until you get more experience with public speaking – you may not know how to harness this energy. As soon as you notice these symptoms – use them as a psychological indicator that “you are ready to give a speech” and you will think clearer and quicker.

Stage fright is directly associated with the way we perceive a situation. You will need to take steps toward changing the perception that giving a speech is a fearful situation.

The big question is how do we do this?
There are three proven methods of doing this:

1) Experience
2) Mental Rehearsal
3) Relaxation Techniques

Experience – Lots of studies show that the best method for reducing anxiety is to practice speaking in front of an audience. The more you speak in front of an audience, your confidence will increase and your fear will decrease.

After a few speeches you will begin to put your anxiety into perspective.
You will realize that the audience is not armed, hostile or bored.
You will realize that you probably do not make a fool out of yourself.
You will also realize that if you stumble, miss a word or make other small mistakes you will be forgiven.

How do you gain Experience?
Join Toastmasters. At Toastmasters we will give you opportunities to speak and evaluate your speaking skills in a non-threatening environment.

Speak in front of your community, school, church, clubs, and/or at work any time you can.

Mental Rehearsal – Another method of controlling speech anxiety is mental rehearsal. Your thought processes can cause physiological changes, which affect performance. Mental Rehearsal helps you to use your thought processes to achieve positive results.
Research shows that vividly imagined events are actually recorded by the brain as memories. The mind cannot distinguish these events from actual physical events.

Have you ever thought – “Did I dream this, or did it actually happen?”

If you vividly imagine yourself delivering a successful and effective speech your mind will experience this as if it actually happened.

Once you have a few of these mentally rehearsed speeches in your library of experience – the likelihood of actually presenting a successful speech increases.

How do you mentally rehearse a speech?
Close your eyes; imagine that you are being introduced to an audience.

Visualize yourself walking up to a lectern with confidence as you smile back to the audience.

Breathe deeply several times before you start your speech.

Then picture yourself speaking clearly and forcefully, remembering all of the points that you want to make.

Visualize your audience being captivated by your words, your gestures and your use of vocal variety.

When you are finished, imagine your audience applauding in appreciation as you leave the lectern.

Now repeat this rehearsal again and again in your mind, each time notice how your confidence increases and the terror of speaking decreases.

Relaxation Techniques – Even with ample speaking experiences and the use of mental rehearsals – tension can still build up before you give a speech. Don’t worry – Relaxation and breathing techniques can help with this.

Isometric exercises reduce stress by increasing circulation and the flow of oxygen to the brain. You can perform these exercises discreetly in a crowded room.

Focus your attention on the muscles that feel tense. Tighten or flex these muscles for a few seconds – then release them. Systematically do the same for other major muscle groups – start with your toes and move upwards across as many muscles as possible all the way thru your facial muscles.

If you have the luxury of a little privacy before speaking – you can do other exercises to relax as well.

Stand up, stretch to the ceiling and take a deep breath and exhale as you bend and touch your toes (or reach down as far as you can). Repeat this several times.

Hold your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor and rotate them in circles forward 10 times and then backwards 10 times
Drop your head to your chest, rolling it the right, backwards, then to the left.
Repeat this several times and then reverse the flow.

Reducing tension is important prior to a speech.

Nervousness often causes shortness of breath. Breathing from the diaphragm can help. When you inhale, make sure that the diaphragm and stomach, not the chest, are expanding. A trick you can use to learn to breath correctly – lie on your back with a book on your stomach. Take a deep breath. Your stomach should expand, causing the book to rise. When you exhale – the book should fall as well.

Even with all of the experience, mental rehearsals and relaxation techniques – you may still feel nervous and uneasy before your presentation. This is normal. You need the adrenalin flowing to help you speak with energy and enthusiasm.

Your audience will not notice managed nervousness. Audiences can be unaware of many of the small things that you may feel are embarrassing.

If you walk to the lectern with confidence and if you deliver a effective speech, the audience will not know that your palms are sweaty or that your heart is pounding out of your chest.

The next time you are to give a speech and you heart is beating hard and fast, the butterflies are bouncing around in your stomach and your knees are quivering as your palms begin to sweat – take control

Turn your nervousness into positive energy using some of the methods that we just discussed.

Your audience will be impressed with your confidence and listen to every word you say.

Remember – practicing, using Mental Rehearsal and relaxation techniques will help you to “Take the terror out of a talk”.