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4 Science-Based Hacks To Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

4 Science-Based Hacks To Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

What do you feel when you imagine standing up in front of an audience? Visualize the bright lights in your face, see all those people looking at you and expecting you to deliver a top-notch performance. Do butterflies start fluttering about in your stomach? Do your palms start to sweat? Does your head get light?

Indeed, research shows the large role played by speech anxiety in blocking our ability to give great speeches. However, public speaking is vital in being able to make progress in many careers.

Fortunately, a few tips can go a long way in building up confidence and addressing the fears of public speaking. Research shows that those with some training in public speaking not only improve their own communication but can successfully teach others how to give better speeches. As a scholar of the role of emotions in public life, I decided to team up with Patrick Donadio to figure out the best strategies to address public speaking fears. He is a keynote speaker and communication/speech coach with over 30 years of experience working with leaders and their organizations, who authored the forthcoming book “Communicating with Impact.” Together, we came up with a set of four research-informed techniques that anyone can use to improve their public speaking skills.

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The keys to overcoming fear are mental preparation and practice.  As Mark Twain said, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain!” Now, you are never going to get rid of it totally, but we can help you get rid of most of it.

1. Focus on Dealing with the Fear Itself

Recognize that the first thing to do is to deal with the fear itself rather than focus on the speech. Sure, some anxiety is useful. It gets the adrenaline going and can give you energy and enthusiasm. Yet beyond that limited amount, if you don’t deal with the fear, you won’t be able to give a great speech, no matter how hard you try.

This fear comes from your emotional self, not your rational self. It’s not helpful for you to have fear to achieve your goal of giving a great speech, but your emotional self doesn’t know that. You need to use intentional thinking strategies to manage your emotions in order to reach your goals.

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To address your fear, remember you are not unique in your fear. There would not be the extensive research on speech anxiety if you were! Scientists even have a special term for this fear – glossophobia. Knowing that this term exists and that it is a well-studied topic, should relieve some fear for you.

2. Be Positive

Next, apply the science-based strategy of positive self-talk. Give yourself a pep talk and psyche yourself up. You can do this in many different ways. Some people meditate, others pray, listen to music or go jogging. There are many different ways to get your energy levels high.  Whatever works for you, do it! If you’re not prepared mentally, you won’t be prepared at all.

Besides positive self-talk, use positive thinking. If you want to be an effective public speaker, you have to believe in yourself. If you do not believe in yourself, how do you expect other people to believe in you? Remind yourself that you know more about the topic than the audience does. Now, you can expect a few people out there may be more knowledgeable. You are not going to know more than everybody does. However, chances are if you have done your homework and picked a topic you know about, you will know more than most people in your audience.

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3. Use Your Body Well

Regardless of whether you use the strategies above, right before you get up to speak, you may get a little nervous. You have a lot of excess energy in there. You do not want to get rid of all of it, and believe me, you will not, but you want to get rid of some of it. Try some “tense and relax” techniques.

Clench and relax your fists. Clench your fists really hard, and then release them. Can you feel the tension leaving? It really works. Some people get a lot of tension in their necks, if you do, try shoulder shrugs.  Push your shoulders up to your ears hold them there for 10 seconds and release. A good overall tension reliever is stretching exercises. Do some deep knee bends, stretch your arms up, open your hands really wide and then close them. All of these exercises are good ways to release some of that tension.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice the speech to gain more confidence in your ability. It is especially helpful to do so in the exact room where you will be giving the speech. Get up in front of the room and try to envision what it is going to be like when you give my speech. This will help you feel more comfortable when you speak, and fill you with greater confidence.

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If you can’t practice in the room, try to use visualization, a research-based strategy widely employed by top athletes. Visualize what you know about the room and the audience, and imagine giving the speech. See with your mind’s eye everyone staring at you, listening with rapt attention. Imagine the applause breaking out after your speech, and your boss giving you a big thumbs-up sign after you have finished.

Speaking is a skill that grows stronger with practice and weaker with disuse. The secret to improving your speaking skills is the experience. Where can you get speaking opportunities? They exist all around us – at work, in community groups, at a church. You can also set up speaking engagements at various organizations like Fraternal Order of Police, Toastmasters, Urban League, Community Action Agencies, Farm Bureaus, Rotary Clubs, Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis Club, church groups, or League of Women Voters. These are all great opportunities to practice. Remember, your first speech may be your worst speech, but you will keep getting better and less anxious going forward!

Even accomplished public speakers may continue to experience fear. These tips, widely used by experienced speakers and supported by research, can help anyone minimize the impact of  speaking anxiety. The sooner you get up in front of a group, realize that you have something important to say, and say it, the sooner you’ll get rid of your fear.

Featured photo credit: iKharizma/Flickr via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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