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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

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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Last Updated on June 27, 2019

12 Ways To Improve Social Skills And Make You Sociable Anytime

12 Ways To Improve Social Skills And Make You Sociable Anytime

If you feel like you’re the awkward person at social events or you struggle to enter into conversations because you’re shy, it can impact your social life and your career.

However, you can start improving your social skills by following these 12 strategies and soon, you’ll be able to enter into conversations with confidence.

1. Behave Like a Social Person

You can behave like a more social creature, even if you don’t feel like it.

Don’t allow anxiety to hold you back. Make the decision to talk to new people and to enter into conversations even when you’re feeling nervous about it.

Over time, it will get easier and you’ll quickly start improving your social skills.

2. Start Small if Necessary

If going to a party or spending time in a crowd seems overwhelming, start small.

Go into the grocery store and say, “Thank you,” to the clerk or go to a restaurant and order your food. Practice making small talk gradually.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

If you want the attention off you in a conversation, get familiar with open-ended questions. Encourage others to talk so you won’t have to make the idle chit-chat.

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Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer and you may open the door to invite the other person to keep the conversation going.

Take a look at these tips on How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions.

4. Encourage Others to Talk About Themselves

Most people really enjoy talking about themselves. Ask a question about a person’s career, hobbies, or family. Show you’re interested in hearing what is being said.

If you want to keep the conversation going, you should make it like playing ping pong. Learn more about it here: How to Connect With Someone Deeper Within a Short Time

5. Create Goals For Yourself

Establish some small goals for yourself. Perhaps you want to practice one particular skill or maybe you want to start attending a social activity in your community.

Establish a goal and begin to work on strategies that will improve your social life.

Even better, learn to use SMART Goal to help you communicate better.

6. Offer Compliments Generously

Compliments can be a great way to open the door to a conversation. Offer a co-worker a compliment on a presentation he gave at a meeting or compliment your neighbor on his new car.

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Compliments can show others that you are friendly and there’re more reasons Why You Should Pay a Compliment to Someone Every Day.

7. Read Books About Social Skills

There are many books on the market that can help you learn specific social skills and ways to start conversations.

However, keep in mind that reading about these skills won’t make you an expert. You’ll need to practice them over and over again.

Some books recommendations here: 20 Powerful Books to Win You Friends and Influence More People

8. Practice Good Manners

Good manners go a long way in improving social skills. Practice being polite, showing gratitude, and using good table manners.

9. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Non-verbal communication is very important. Pay attention to the type of body language you use.

Try to appear relaxed, make appropriate amounts of eye contact, and appear open to conversation.

Learn how to properly use your body languages here: Be Instantly Irresistible With These 10 Body Language Tips

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10. Join a Social Skills Support Group

Many communities offer social skill support groups. Support groups help people who feel shy, awkward, or extremely anxious in social situations learn and practice new skills.

You’ll start improving social skills and may be able to make new friends who understand your difficulties.

11. Stay Up to Date on Current Events

Read up on current trends and news stories so you have something to talk about with people.

Try to avoid anything that is too controversial, such as politics, but do talk about other news stories that may be of interest.

It can be a great way to start a conversation and can help you stick to neutral subjects.

12. Identify and Replace Negative Thoughts

If you have a lot of negative thoughts about your social interactions, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, a person who thinks, “I’m really awkward and I will embarrass myself,” may sit in the corner at a party. As a result, he may leave the party thinking that he must be really awkward because no one talked to him.

Identify negative thoughts that are likely dragging you down. Replace them with more realistic thoughts such as, “I can make conversation and I can meet new people.”

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Don’t allow yourself to dwell on thoughts that aren’t productive! Find out How Not to Let Negative Thoughts Trump the Positive Vibes.

Good social skills are essential for effective communication. If you find socializing with others a challenge, start to take on my suggestions and practice each of them consistently.

Great social skills don’t come easily, you need to practice yourself and really try these tips by talking with others.

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Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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