When a friend is going through a difficult time, it’s natural to want to help, but it’s not always easy to know how. Think about occasions where you’ve been in need yourself – what did your friends do? What did you find the most helpful? Some friends may have kept their distance and perhaps you felt hurt by that, but it could be that they really didn’t know what to say or do, or they simply assumed you would ask if you needed anything. It can be hard whichever side you’re on, whether you’re the one needing help, or the one offering it.
Here are eight ways that you can really help a friend in need.
1. Be Specific in Your Offers of Help
Vague comments like “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” are not likely to be taken up. Most people find it hard to ask for help, so telling them to let you know if they need anything is putting the onus back on them to ask. Often when people are going through difficult times, even everyday tasks can feel too much. So aside from offering them a shoulder to cry on, think about what practical help you can offer, and suggest specific things. For example “I’m going to the supermarket now, would you like to give me your list and I can pick up some things for you while I’m there?” Specific offers like that are more likely to be taken up.
2. Don’t Force Your Help on Them
Offer your help, but if they decline, then accept that. If you keep insisting you might make them feel worse. It may be that they have never really needed help before, or have been brought up to believe that they should be able to manage, no matter what. Or maybe they genuinely don’t want or need your help. That doesn’t mean you don’t offer to help again, it’s simply about being sensitive, and respecting what they say about their needs at the time.
3. Only Offer Help That You Are Genuinely Able to Give
Think carefully about what help you offer. In a hasty moment when your friend is very upset, it’s normal to want to make everything alright for them, but reflect a little about the realities of what you’re offering before you open your mouth. Not following through on what you’ve offered, or doing something grudgingly, is worse than not offering at all; your friend will feel let down, and you will feel wretched.
4. Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best For Them
However they are struggling, your friend that is suffering is still an adult and needs to make their own decisions. When people are going through difficult times, they may feel that much of what is happening to them is out of their control. If you attempt to take over everything, you’re adding to their loss of control. What might have been the best thing for you when you were going through a difficult time isn’t necessarily what is best for them. Be guided by them, if they want you to take charge of things, or make decisions for them, then fine, but that’s their choice not yours. The exception to this is if you are concerned that they may harm themselves, or others, in which case you will probably need to seek appropriate help for them, even if they don’t want it.
5. Remember That Small Thoughtful Gestures Go a Long Way
You may be limited in what you can do to help because of your own commitments, or for financial or geographical reasons, but don’t underestimate the value of small gestures. A card in the mail to let them know that you’re thinking of them can mean a lot, or a voicemail message to remind them you’re at the end of the phone if they want to talk is great for the friend to have. Perhaps you could do a bit of research on organizations or support groups that may be able to help, and email those details to your friend. Whatever your own situation, there will be small thoughtful things you can do to help which will probably be of greater value than you imagine.
6. Be Someone They Can Trust
Avoid sharing details of their situation with other friends unless they have given you permission. Your intentions might be good in talking it through with others, but your friend may have been telling you things in confidence, and will then feel you have broken their trust. They don’t need the added burden of feeling hurt and let down by you on top of whatever else they are going through.
7. Listen More Than Talk
If you’re usually more of a talker than a listener, now is the time to hold back. Avoid repeatedly giving your opinion on their situation unless they ask for it. Be guided by them, they may want to just offload to a sympathetic ear, or they may want you to offer suggestions. It’s best if you can keep your own emotions under control, you may feel upset or angry about what your friend is having to deal with, but you will be more help to them if you can remain calm as you listen. This will help them feel that you are dependable and a rock for them.
8. Help Them to See a Brighter Future
Depending on their situation, your friend may be finding it hard to imagine a time where they won’t feel like they currently do. Gently help them to look beyond that by giving them things to look forward to, simple things like an evening out. When you feel they’re ready, begin to talk positively with them about plans for the future. Again, be guided by your friend here, if they seem open to what you’re saying, then go with it, if they shut down then back off and try again another time. The most important thing is for them to know that you are there for them, now, and as they move forward into the future.
You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.
Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:
1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically
According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.
“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor
Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:
If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.
If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.
Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:
Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.
Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.
To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.
Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.
Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.
Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.
Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:
2. Focus on your goal
One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.
Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’
Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.
Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.
If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.
3. Convert negativity to positivity
There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?
‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’
It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.
Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”
Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.
Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:
4. Understand your content
Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.
However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.
“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.
Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.
One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.
5. Practice makes perfect
Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.
In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.
Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
6. Be authentic
There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.
Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.
Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.
To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.
With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.
Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:
7. Post speech evaluation
Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.
Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation
We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.
You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.
Improve your next speech
As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:
How did I do?
Are there any areas for improvement?
Did I sound or look stressed?
Did I stumble on my words? Why?
Was I saying “um” too often?
How was the flow of the speech?
Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.
If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too: