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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 May 28, 2020

10 Success Principles for Living Your Dream Life

10 Success Principles for Living Your Dream Life

Are you stressed out and overwhelmed, wishing you had more time to do the things that really matter? Are you ready to do something better, something special in your life or your career?

You were born with a gift that no one else in the world can express like you. When you dance to your own music, you naturally develop your innate abilities and excel in work and life. You are a total rock star. But when you live someone else’s idea of who you should be, it throws off your groove.

Many people—maybe you—stopped following their dreams way too early in life because their talents were ignored, minimized, or shamed. They didn’t have the chops to win an American Idol competition or nab an Olympic gold medal, so they stopped expressing their inborn gifts altogether.

You don’t need to be an award winner to rock your life. Living your dream life is about discovering your superpowers and feeling vibrant and joyful when you use them. It’s about owning what makes you unique and finding like-minded people to support you.

Here are 10 success principles to help you live a rich and rewarding life on your terms that have worked with thousands of people in my workshops and will work for you, too.

1. Get a Hobby to Move Closer to Your Dreams

If you never became a professional dancer or a world-renowned author, it does NOT mean you should stop dancing or writing! These activities make you come alive, even if you “only” do them as favorite pastimes.

Engaging in a hobby is one of the most important success principles you can follow to move closer to your dreams.

When you try something creative for the first time or in a long while, you begin to see opportunities at work and in life that you were unaware of before. You also feel happier and more energized, according to a recent study from New Zealand.[1]

Some of my most burned-out executive clients reinvigorated their careers by discovering a creative outlet that refueled them after the workday ended. Research at San Francisco State University shows that having a hobby lowers stress and helps you succeed at work.[2]

So, give yourself permission to try new things and revisit old passions you gave up long ago. Setting aside just one hour a week for personal exploration can significantly change your life.

Who knows? Your creative outlet could transform into a thriving business or lead to a new profession down the road.

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2. Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Did you know that you are more likely to succeed when you develop your natural strengths rather than work on your weaknesses? The problem is that you probably don’t know where your true talents lie.

Here are a few options to help you discover your unique strengths. You can:

  • Take the VIA Character Strengths Survey[3]
  • Try Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment[4]
  • Answer a few Superpower Questions

Once you understand what makes you tick, you can use these skills at work and your personal life to get more done in less time. If you boost your unique abilities through practice and study, you can accelerate your career and become a leader in a field that matters to you. It’s worth investing in yourself this way.

3. Jumping off a Cliff is NOT Required

Here’s the deal: most people are too afraid to change. When participants first come to my workshops, they tell me they have mouths to feed, bills to pay, and fear that if they follow their dreams, someone will get hurt.

The old saying “leap and the net shall appear” does not comfort them. Because they are hesitant to plunge into the unknown, they believe their only option is to stay put where they are in life. Can you relate?

You do not have to sacrifice the life you have now to start a new one. I was a psychology professor by day and singer by night for years before I transitioned into a full-time music career.

Just take a little time out each week to do what enlivens you through a hobby, volunteer work, etc. Get a feel for it.

Is it what you really want? If so, increase the time you spend doing it and make the transition when the time feels right.

4. Give Your Inner Critic Some Love

The main culprit that keeps you from stepping outside your comfort zone and getting the life of your dreams is KCRP or K-CRAP – the radio station that plays 24/7 in your head. The moment you try to do something interesting with your life it slaps you down with such chart-topping killer hooks as “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ll never be good enough!”.

Have you ever noticed that KCRP’s mean-spirited DJ sounds like your parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures who shut you down creatively? These folks don’t need to stifle you any longer (although they often still do) because your inner critic does it for them. That keeps you stuck in a rut.

To break free, try thinking of this DJ as a gruff old grandfather who gives you crap to keep you safe. Remember, this grumpy grandpa is woefully out of touch with the times. So, his stern opinions don’t really matter much, do they? Give him a pat on the back for his good intentions, and put your focus back on what makes you come alive.

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This success principle will give you the courage to venture into the unknown where you can dance to the beat of your own drummer.

5. Embrace Your Inner Weirdo

Many of us don’t go after our dreams because we’re afraid folks will find out how odd or strange we are. But our little eccentricities often turn out to be our greatest strengths. Yes, it’s good to be quirky.

Odds are, you lost track of your true passions and talents before you were even old enough to know you were getting off-track. You became slowly “adulterated” by learning to:

  • Take on family roles that don’t match who you really are.
  • Spit back what teachers taught you in school rather than risk getting bad grades for being original.
  • Hide parts of yourself that don’t seem acceptable to certain social groups.

The price for fitting in is that you may wind up leading a life that doesn’t fit you all that well. Your true calling becomes clear when you embrace what makes you different from others and allow yourself to stand out from the crowd, even if it feels awkward.

Often, the very qualities you view as your flaws are your greatest gifts.

6. See the Bigger Picture to Find Your True Calling

I cannot stress the importance of this success principle enough. Your true calling is right in front of you. But you may miss it because you’re looking for it in the wrong place.

To “see” it clearly, try widening your point of view.

Case in point: Maria felt she needed to retire early from being a police detective, so she could travel abroad. I encouraged Maria to think of ways that she could continue to serve as a law enforcer (a career she loved) and travel overseas at the same time.

A few months later, Maria landed a job with the United Nations in Bosnia training the local police force to understand and embrace human rights procedures.

Like Maria, you are an everyday rock star capable of accomplishing greater things than you can imagine. Is what you’re looking for right in front of you, too? Do you have an inkling of what it may be?

Look beyond your day-to-day activities, your current job, and even the town you live in. View your life from an eagle’s perspective and be open to new possibilities.

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7. Try a Little Wish-List Magic

Pretend I’m your fairy godmother and I give you permission right now to be your most magnificent self. What kind of life would be music to your ears? It doesn’t matter whether it seems unattainable or even downright crazy. Write it down on a wish list.

Get quiet. Be honest. Think big.

What would you like your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, and your spiritual life to be like? Jot down enough details so that your wishes seem tangible to you. Then, look at this list every morning before you start your day and every night before you go to sleep.

Sounds silly? It’s not. It works! Permitting yourself to daydream about a rich and fulfilling life is the first step to manifesting it.

8. Take Breaks to Get Clues About Your Ideal Future

Did you know that working straight through to a deadline leads to diminishing returns? Research shows that taking a break for 15 minutes every 75 to 90 minutes can help you recharge, refresh your focus, and get more done in less time.[5]

Wait, it gets better! A Stanford study shows that walking increases your creative output increases by 60 percent. Doing repetitive activities such as walking, running, riding your bike, swimming, and sweeping allow solutions to problems to pop into your mind out of nowhere.[6]

What does this success principle have to do with creating your dream life?

These mini-breaks allow you to get vital clues for what to do next to attain your ideal future. Plus, you won’t waste precious time and energy getting lost in other people’s agendas.

9. Take Action on Your Inspired Ideas

Once an inspired thought pops into your mind, take action.

This is one of the most powerful success principles for turning your dreams into reality; the sooner the better. Whatever it is—from calling an old friend to taking a new route home—be sure to do it!

Pay attention to your oddball hunches. You need to go after what you want, not just dream about it. As comedian Jim Carrey warns,

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“You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”

10. Count Your Rockstar Moments

Still not sure you have what it takes to get your dream life? This final success principle is guaranteed to help.

Make a list of everything you’ve ever accomplished. As you read back through it, put a star next to each item, and let it sink in.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good you’ll feel about yourself afterward. You’ll also see how effective you’ve been in the past at getting what you want. You’ve succeeded before, you can succeed again.

You already rock. You just need to own it. Trust me, you’ve got this!

Final Thoughts

Eleanor Roosevelt said,

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Following these success principles will help you find the time and energy to do the things that really matter and live with clear intention.

By spending just one hour a week doing something you love, focusing on your strengths and achievements, embracing what makes you different, and acting on inspired ideas, you can create a life that is a perfect fit for you, step-by-step.

If you don’t have a clue about what your dream life could look like yet, don’t worry. Your heart knows. It has been “talking” to you for a long time. It’s just being muffled by KCRP, buried under a lot of “shoulds” and fear.

This article can also help you figure out the life you truly want to live: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up.

Stand still, get quiet, and listen. It’s constantly telling you what you need to do to realize your own rockstar potential. It may be just a whisper now, but the more you pay attention to it, the louder it will get, and the easier it will be to follow.

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Featured photo credit: Rahul Dey via unsplash.com

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