Public Speaking: Tips To Avoid Fear

Are you nervous about that presentation or speech you will be making? Here are some tips to help you calm your nerves.

Perhaps you have to give a speech at a wedding, a presentation at work, or you've been asked to deliver a eulogy at a funeral. If you find your mouth going dry and your palms getting sweaty just from the thought of it, you're not alone. Speaking in public is one of the most common fears that people share. While you may not be able to rid yourself of anxiety, you can definitely lessen it.

First of all, be prepared. Don't attempt to "wing it." Even if you have only a short time to prepare, a little preparation is better than none.

Don't write out a speech and read from it. Not only can it make you sound dry and stale, but you will be more likely to stumble on your words. If you lose your place while reading it, you will likely panic even more.

Likewise, don't attempt to memorize a speech word-for-word. This also can make you sound stale and rehearsed, instead of natural. If you blank out, it will be harder to get on track.

The best way to speak in public is extemporaneously. This means preparing the things you want to talk about carefully, then allowing yourself to speak naturally. Use index cards as prompts to help you move along, stay on track and remember your key points. Jot down your key ideas and what you want to talk about. Put each key idea on an index card, and make a brief note on each of the points you want to make in those key ideas. Think of an interesting opening and closing remarks, and jot them down, each on their own card. Put the cards in order and number them. Have them with you when you are ready to speak and refer to them as needed.

For at least 12 hours before you give a speech, be careful of what you eat and drink. When you are nervous and your adrenalin is pumping, certain foods with high sugar, carbohydrate or caffeine content, or herbs that act as an expectorant can worsen certain symptoms of anxiety, such as shaking hands, knocking knees, racing heart, sweating, and heavy breathing. It is best to avoid caffeinated beverages of all kinds, as well as sweets. Also try to avoid dairy products (high in lactose, a natural sugar), fruits (high in fructose, also a natural sugar), and white flour products such as bread and pasta (high in simple carbohydrates). Herbal teas or cough drops that include chamomile, boneset, coltsfoot, echinacea, or elder, all of which induce perspiration, should be avoided as well. For a few hours before speaking in public, try to eat a light diet of lean meats, vegetables, diet soft drinks that are decaffeinated, and plenty of water. For dry mouth, brush your teeth before the event, drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Keep some sugarless lolly pops or sucking candy in your pocket and have one just before going on if you find your mouth is getting dry.

Practice relaxation techniques often before speaking in public. If you have several days in advance to prepare, before you go to bed each night, engage in creative visualization. To do this, sit or lie in a comfortable position, regulate your breathing, and imagine yourself giving your speech. Visualize yourself speaking easily and unafraid. Envision the audience responding to you favorably with interest. By "practicing" with visualization, you will lessen your fear and build your confidence.

Another relaxation technique great for when you are nervous is progressive muscle relaxation. This technique helps you loosen up and release tension, one muscle at a time. Just before you are ready to give your speech, find a place where you can sit and be quiet for a few moments. Focus on one foot; flex it for about 15 seconds, then release it. Do the same with the other foot. Move up to your calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, back, hands, arms, neck, and, finally, your facial muscles. Flex your jaw muscle by opening your mouth as wide as you can for about 15 seconds, then release. Shut your eyes tightly, then release. By getting rid of excess tension that builds up in your muscles, you will experience less stress and move more naturally and comfortably.

Remember that everyone makes a mistake every now and then. No one in the audience is out to get you. If you trip over a word, or stumble as you are walking up the stairs, just smile and move on. It is not the end of the world. People will probably not even remember any little error you might make, so don't blow it out of proportion and dwell on it in your own mind. Take a deep breath, and move on.

The more prepared you are, the better you will be able to keep your fears under control when speaking in public.

© High Speed Ventures 2011