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Ace Any Public Speaking Gig with these 6 Tips Backed by Science

Ace Any Public Speaking Gig with these 6 Tips Backed by Science

Did you know that the fear of public speaking is THE number one thing most people are afraid of?

Believe it or not, the fear of death only comes in at second place. In a joke said on the popular show Seinfeld, he said that:

“To the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

It may seem odd, but even the most seasoned public speakers will tell you that they still get the jitters from time to time.

Whether you’re about to give a toast at a bridal reception, or you need to pitch a proposal to a client, getting over your fear of public speaking can open up a lot of doors. You’ll appear as someone who’s confident, talented, and charismatic. You might even get promoted, too.

You’ve undoubtedly heard countless advice on public speaking, from imagining the audience in their underwear to carrying a rabbit’s foot in your pocket. But, your best bet comes right down to science.

Keep these six tips in mind and you should ace ANY speaking engagement like a pro:

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1. Come prepared for the event.

“Best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about.”

– Michael H. Mescon, author and speaker

Even if it’s totally last minute, there are still things you can do to prep for the speech. Were you asked by your boss to give a sales pitch? Do you need to be the Master of Ceremonies for a friend’s wedding reception? The less prepared you are, the more anxious you’ll get. Plus, there’s nothing worse than rambling about irrelevant ideas.

Use the Web to search for similar speeches or for inspiration to create your own. Read on related topics. Write important notes on index cards as a guide during the presentation. Do whatever it takes to come prepared for your intention.

2. Carry something familiar.

“A good orator is pointed and impassioned.”

– Marcus Cicero, Roman philosopher and orator

It’s normal to find yourself feeling anxious or jittery – no matter how prepared you are. Just thinking about facing your fears is NOT enough. If it’s your first public speaking gig, you might be so stressed that you’re ready to flee!

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To calm your nerves, try carrying something familiar with you. It could be your favorite pen, a keychain, or that bracelet your spouse gave you. Hold it in your hand for a few minutes while concentrating on your breathing.

Speaking in public is usually scary because it forces people to be in situations that are alien to them. By carrying something special with you, you create a safe space that’s familiar to you.

3. Hum a tune BEFORE the public speaking event.

Humming your favorite tune has several health benefits.[1] One, it helps calm your nerves. In fact, it’s one of the fastest ways to relieve stress. Secondly, it improves airflow between your sinuses. This is great if you want to avoid sounding “stuffy” during one of your talks.

So relax your mind by whistling a happy a tune. Aside from helping your mind focus, it can also soothe your nerves so you won’t feel as nervous once you step onto the stage. Simple songs like a lullaby or a nursery rhyme should work well for this drill.

4. Shift your mindset from YOU to YOUR AUDIENCE.

“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send, but by what the listener receives.”

– Lilly Walters, motivational keynote speaker

One of the main reasons people fear public speaking is because we are afraid of being put under the spotlight. What if we get laughed at? What if we jumble our words? What if we stumble and fall flat on our face?

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The human mind is geared to go through every bad scenario we can think of. But blogger and motivational speaker, Michael Hyatt, says that once we change our perspective from US to OUR AUDIENCE, our fear suddenly becomes irrational.[2]

Think about it: if you are asked to speak, do you believe it’s because people want to see you fail? Audiences attend public speaking events because they want to gain something. Whether it’s new information or a sense of inspiration, you have been given the task to relay a message.

The question now is: how can you best deliver this point across? Looking at it from this angle, talking to a crowd doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

5. Begin with a story.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Carl W. Buechner, writer and theologian

When you tell a story, you light up seven areas in the brain of your listeners, as opposed to only two when you cite facts or figures.[3] You don’t need to ooze with confidence to tell a good story. In fact, audiences will care more for the warmth or emotions associated with it.

Make it personal. What events in your life can you relate to your talk? What values or life lessons can your listeners gain from it? Then, start stringing together words: describe details, give dramatic pauses, and smile.

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6. Practice public speaking at every opportunity.

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist, lecturer, and poet

As they say, “practice makes perfect”. Of course, even the most seasoned speakers in the world still get the butterflies before every gig. But as they do it all the time, it just becomes second nature to them.

Whether your industry calls for it or not, getting over the fear of public speaking will open up plenty of doors for you. It will help you meet new friends, communicate better, and look great on your resume. Not bad things to have.

Grab every opportunity to speak in front of a crowd, whether it’s an audience for three folks or 33,000 people. Tell a joke to a small group of friends. Give an impromptu speech for the bride and groom. Offer to do the sales pitch for that important client.

Before you know it, you would’ve conquered the world’s greatest fear.

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske/Pexels.com via pexels.com

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Cris Antonio

Content Strategist, Storyteller

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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