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13 Tips to Zap Your Butterflies When Speaking in Public

13 Tips to Zap Your Butterflies When Speaking in Public
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    Everyone gets nervous before giving a speech. Unfortunately, the more people in the audience, the more important the speech usually is, making any butterflies in your stomach multiply before you begin. Knowing how to keep yourself calm can make a big difference when giving a speech.

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    I’m not a world-famous speaker. I’m just an introvert who has managed to train himself to stay calm on stage. I’ve given quite a few speeches and presentations, so these tips are merely suggestions from my personal experience in trying to fight my own butterflies.

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    For Your Next Presentation

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    If you’ve got a big presentation to do in the next few weeks, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to improve your speaking skill. At this point you just need to make sure you deliver the presentation to the best of your current ability. Nervousness can interfere with that delivery, so here is some advice for conquering your fears in the short-term:

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    1. They won’t notice. I’ve listened to speeches where speakers told everyone how nervous they were. Until that moment, I had no idea they were nervous and I’m sure nobody else noticed either. Think of any nervousness you feel as being your private secret and most of the time it will be.
    2. Rehearse like a maniac. When I have an important presentation, I memorize the key sections word for word. I practice in front of a mirror several times before I go on stage. Rehearsal is extremely important because it will keep you from forgetting your lines in a panic.
    3. Unfreeze the audience with humor. If the situation allows it and you are funny in conversations, try starting with a joke or a bit of humor. If you can start the audience laughing before getting into more serious matters, that will dissolve much of your fright. I wouldn’t use humor if I didn’t feel comfortable with it, so don’t push the jokes if it doesn’t feel natural to do so.
    4. Look good. I’m certainly not going to become a male model overnight, but staying groomed and dressing somewhat more formally than the rest of the audience can do wonders to boost your confidence. Worrying about being underdressed or not having shaved that morning can make any stage fright worse.
    5. Scope out the environment. Come to your presentation room a day before and look around. Where will people be sitting? What potential problems might come up for speaking or displaying information? Be comfortable in the room you are about to speak in.
    6. Talk to the audience. If you don’t know your audience already, have a chat with a few members before you speak. This can give you a bit of extra familiarity with the audience by knowing you have a few acquaintances in the crowd of strangers.
    7. Memorize the sticky spots. During your rehearsal, there will probably be one or two places that you trip over. Reword and memorize these sections so they don’t drag you down during your final speech.
    8. Accept the fear, don’t fight it. The worst thing you can do when you’re nervous is to notice your own anxiety and start worrying about that too. Just accept any nervousness you feel just as you would accept that the carpet is blue or the walls are white. Trying to force yourself to calm down or hide signs of nervousness can backfire and make your problem worse.

    For Your Future Presentations

    In the immediate future there isn’t much you can do to improve your speaking skill. But for presentations in the next weeks, months and years, there are many ways you can eliminate nervousness and increase your confidence.

    1. Join Toastmasters. This organization has been really helpful for myself in improving my public speaking. Not only does it provide a supportive environment with friends, but it offers detailed and constructive advice to improve on.
    2. Practice the Art of Pauses. Your audience needs pauses. Speakers who speed-talk for an hour aren’t likely to leave an impact on their audience. Boosting your confidence starts by becoming comfortable leaving silence. When you’re nervous, your instinct will be to fill any dead air with words. Resisting that urge over the long run makes you a more confident and competent speaker.
    3. Avoid the Powerpoint Crutch. Most people use Powerpoint as a way of directing attention away from themselves and onto a screen. While it may be less frightening to have the audience stare at your poorly worded bullet points, it destroys your speeches and lowers your speaking ability. Training yourself to speak without a slideshow forces you to become more entertaining and confident as a speaker.
    4. Work on Posture and Body Language. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he points out studies where researchers discovered that moving their face into smiling or frowning positions actually made them feel differently. This has been reflected in other research and I believe it applies to your body language on stage. Adopting a confident stance and posture can take training to form as a habit, but it will eventually reduce your nervousness at the podium.
    5. Fail Often. I’ve made a few speeches that absolutely bombed. The jokes were met with silence and I didn’t get the results I intended. While you’d think these experiences would increase my nervousness, I’ve found doing them enough actually reduces it. When you realize that the worst that can happen isn’t that bad, it zaps your butterflies for good.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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