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How to Control Your Fear of Public Speaking


In an interview with 60 Minutes, one of the Navy SEALS on the Osama Bin Laden mission surprised his interviewer when he said that many of the SEALS slept on the helicopter ride to this assignment.

They faced possible death, yet were able to sleep. (Below you'll learn how the SEALS develop this mindset.)

What does this have to do with fear of public speaking?

Dying a Thousand Deaths
Well, surveys find that the number one fear of most people is not death, but public speaking.  It makes sense, in a way. You know you’ll die someday, but giving a speech means you may die a thousand deaths—today.

If it’s any comfort, you're not alone. I work with every level of organizations, from CEO’s to frontline managers and the truth is that everyone feels this kind of anxiety in one form or another.

The difference between success and failure is how you manage your fears. Navy SEALS, celebrities and others use specific strategies to overcome their fears of all kinds.

Depriving Others of Knowing You
Avoidance is not a strategy. If you are avoiding opportunities to speak you are stunting your own development and depriving others of the opportunity to learn who you are and what you have to offer.

Coaching speakers and media spokespersons over many years, I’ve found the following seven techniques to be the most effective ways to help control anxiety your anxiety while communicating:

1. See it from your audience’s point of view: realize that your audience doesn’t notice most of the signals of nervousness you feel, like butterflies in your stomach, racing heart, and sweaty palms.

Try this: have someone video tape you while you speak, or video yourself. While you may be very nervous, generally on the video you won’t notice the nervousness. Neither does your audience, so relax.

It might surprise you that many celebrities admit to serious stage fright, including Adele, Taylor Swift and Rod Stewart, but they have learned to control their anxiety.

2. Focus more on your mission and less on yourself: Being too self-aware may start an internal cycle of escalating tension. It may occur in certain situations and not others.

For example, you may speak comfortably to employees regularly, you may become overly anxious before your annual strategic presentation to senior management. Change your mind-set about the annual event.

Complete your presentation two weeks before the delivery date and practice with a focus on one clear objective. This will help you lose your self-consciousness and deliver your best presentation.

Navy SEALS face some of the most anxiety producing situations imaginable—facing death at any moment. They are taught to overcome their fears by focusing on their missions and the specific tasks at hand from moment to moment. This article in Men’s Health details their training and research to support this approach.

3. Prepare well: Nothing will reduce anxiety more than the confidence that comes from knowing you’re fully prepared to communicate—knowing your audience, your messages, and how you plan to convey yourself. View your communications as you would any other business process. Establish expectations and time lines with your staff or yourself and schedule rehearsal time for your presentations.

4. Rehearse: Your confidence also comes from being well trained in delivery and practicing your remarks. Paradoxically, the most skilled communicators continually rehearse their lines until they seem natural and almost spontaneous.

The late Steve Jobs was known for his meticulous preparation. Those who worked closely with him on introductions of major Apple products, including the iPhone and Mac Air recount his exhaustive rehearsals.

One employee detailed Jobs' preparation as:

To a casual observer it is just a guy in a black shirt and jeans talking about some new technology products. But it is in fact an incredibly complex and sophisticated....It represents weeks of work, precise orchestration and intense pressure for the scores of people who collectively make up the "man behind the curtain".

5. Don’t expect perfection: Due to their competitive personalities, high-performing people often will create an unwarranted expectation of perfection for themselves in making a speech or doing a media interview. Ease up. For all of us, our communications will continue to be a work in progress. The more you practice, and deliver, the better you’ll get. And the less anxious you will be.

6. Understand your role: In any communications setting, if you have not properly defined your role, you will be at a loss for how to communicate. Are you introducing someone? Are you doing a keynote? What does your audience expect of you? Once you understand your role, you’ll feel more comfortable about how and what to communicate.

7. Breathe: Tension tends to constrict breathing. Take several deep breaths before you begin speaking. It also helps to practice relaxation exercises regularly. Exercise earlier in the day can also help to relax your body.

You’ll never eliminate anxiety entirely—and that’s okay. The key is to control your anxiety and transform it into energy that will drive you and your presentation to deliver effectively for your audience.

Also, while this may be obvious, these techniques apply to most situations that raise your fear level and bring you anxiety.

What About You?
What situations produce anxiety for you? Watch yourself this week and monitor your mental response. Try one of these tips and see what how it goes.

And please do me a favor: use the easy buttons below to share this with friends who might benefit.

Image Credit: DVIDSHUB

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