Every serious athlete will tell you that in order to compete with the best, you have to train. It takes hours upon hours to just get into the same league, let alone be the best at something. If we really want to excel at anything, we must prepare for it and make it part of our daily lives. It is not something we can just “wing” and see where we end up. It takes dedication, perseverance, and commitment. It requires effort (lots of it) and a daily dose of attitude.
Isn’t life just as important?
Shouldn’t we be gearing up for bringing our best self to every moment, every experience, and every person we meet? With all of the negativity in the world, we are bombarded with hate and anger, accompanied by misunderstanding and distrust.
But we all want something better, don’t we? Maybe we won’t say it out loud, but we are all thinking it.
We all want to be happy. We all want to feel alive and that our days here mean something. We all want something to look forward to and to believe in.
No need to get on your latest running shorts or sneakers… you might not even break a sweat, but this training is serious stuff.
Shake it off
There are always going to be things we cannot change though we want to and the past will always haunt us if we let it. If we really want to be happy, we have to move past the stuff that isn’t there anymore or the stuff that isn’t so happy. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting — it means, “I’ve accepted it, but holding onto it weighs me down or it makes me better.” People are going to say bad things regardless of whether or not you are in their favor or not. You know in your heart if it’s true or not. As Dr. Seuss said, “Those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind.”
Positive vibes only
It’s easy to get sucked into the mindset of the “Debby Downers” who lurk around, just waiting for someone else to join their group. Be mindful of those that sap your energy and those that restore it. ONLY spend time with the people who encourage you, who support you, and make you better. It may mean saying “goodbye” to people you really care about, but no one can keep from drowning when people are constantly trying to hold you under water. You can tell when you are with good people — you naturally gravitate towards them and find yourself removing yourself from those who just don’t have the “feel-good” vibes you need. There is nothing wrong with putting your own needs before someone else’s.
Listen to your heart
Too often, we let our minds get in the way of our hearts. We do what makes sense instead of trusting the path we already know we must take. Listening to your heart can be difficult when people try to talk over it. They tell you that your heart is wrong and that everything you love and want is just a waste of time. Ignore them! Your beating heart pounds its echo loud when it wants to be heard. Your only job is to believe in its message and allow it to guide you where you really need to be. No matter where it takes you, you will have followed your heart without a single regret.
Believe in magic
Who doesn’t remember being captivated by the circus or “The Wizard of Oz” or even Tinkerbell and her Pixie Dust from “Peter Pan?” Too often we search for a rational explanation and refuse to believe in something until we find the answer why. Accept that some things don’t have an explanation and no amount of logic will make it so. Things that seem random really might not be all that random and when we believe in something a little more than only what we can see, touch, and hear, it’s just the magic talking.
Sing out loud
I know it sounds corny, and most people don’t understand why singing makes the list. The next time you are sitting at a stop light and the person in the car next to you is belting out whatever top 40 hit that’s on the radio, look at their face. Do they look unhappy to you? Nope. They are having a ball. They don’t care if you laugh or sing right along with them. Don’t just hide out in your shower or when no one else is at home with you… sing! Try it now! See? Feels good, right?
Find joy in every day life
The negative is always upon us. It’s there — in the news, in the schools, in the political arena. We can’t escape it, but we can put joy in its place. The secret is to look for it, buried beneath all of the other crap. Look for the joy in a laughter of a baby. Look for the joy found in old friends being reacquainted with one another. Look for joy in the warm cup of coffee you now hold in your two hands. Look for the joy in a simple “hello” between two strangers. Joy is everywhere… you just have to find it.
Give yourself away
It sounds boring, but it works. We cannot feel unhappy when we give of our talents and gifts to someone else for no other reason that we can. Give to someone without being asked to or for any kind of recognition. Leave parts of you with unsuspecting people who never even learn your name. Create a legacy that will long be remembered long after you are gone. Most importantly, give your time away unselfishly and never request it to be returned to you. Create value in your message, in the way you live, and how you inspire others to fall in love with life.
The constant pull between just existing and really thriving is where our free will comes in. Being happy is a choice. It must be made every day. Just like the athletes who train for their one shot at something exciting, we need to start “training” for our best event yet… life.
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: