Picture yourself sitting on an airplane. You’re at 10,000 feet, sitting with your legs hanging in the air, the ground far below, the air whipping around you, a parachute strapped to your back and a loud man shouting from behind you to just jump already.
That’s an extreme situation, but nerves can strike in more everyday situations too like meeting new people, job interviews, a first date or an important meeting.
When nerves hit, you feel as though you’re not up to the challenge that you find yourself faced with and if you let them, they’ll have you turning back around, running away and hiding under the bed sheets.
The good news is that you don’t have to let your nerves call the shots—here are 7 ways to overcome them.
1. Focus on Your Best
What are you like when you’re at your best? Think for a moment about the times when you’ve been at the top of your game, buzzing, flowing and feeling alive, then dive, swim and relish in how that feels.
Being at your best is about two things—bringing everything you are to the moment you find yourself in, and the absence of all the pesky fears, doubts and nerves that trip you up. That state of being at your best is always right inside you, waiting.
It’s pretty cool and when you get really familiar with how this feels you can bring it out at a moment’s notice. All it takes is a conscious, deliberate thought on your part to go there.
2. Follow Your Breath
Nerves are pernicious, sticky thoughts that spiral round and round in that wonderful brain of yours. Once they’re spinning around, it’s really tough to get out of your head, return to the moment and get back in the driver’s seat. Your breath is one of the most powerful tools for getting back on track, so the next time the nerves hit, gently shift your focus onto your breath as it moves in and out of your body.
Don’t do anything with the breath, don’t force it or try to regulate it, just notice the full duration of the in breath, wherever you feel it in your body. Keep your attention on the breath, noticing the sensations in your body as you exhale, and even the momentary pause between the in-breath and out-breath.
Your breath is a wonderful anchor to the present and, with a little practice, can cut right through your nerves.
3. Reset your Expectations
Your brain loves certainty and in an effort to try to be more certain about how things will turn out, it will create an array of expected outcomes.
These expectations will run the whole gamut between wonderful success and tragic failure, but, as it’s the more painful, negative expectations that threaten your safety, it’s those that your brain gives more focus to.
But they’re not real. They’re no more real than the Darth Vader bobble head sitting on your office desk. Once you realize you don’t need to dance to this negative tune in your head, sweeping away your expectations feels remarkably liberating.
4. Reassure Yourself
Nerves are really just stories about all the things that could go wrong; like screwing it all up, looking a fool or people thinking less of you. As stories go, they don’t have very happy endings, but in the end, they’re still just stories.
Those stories don’t have to play out, so take a moment to reassure yourself. You’ve come this far and you’re still okay. You’ve faced challenges before and come through just fine. This will be okay too. You’ll be fine, whatever happens, you’ll get through it and live another day.
5. Normalize Rejection
Rejection sure feels nasty doesn’t it? As experiences go, it’s pretty awful, but that’s only because we’re wired to think that it’s “bad”. Truth is, nobody goes through life without rejection featuring in some measure, and a life spent avoiding rejection is a life spent unlived.
Fearing rejection will pile on the pressure and crank up those nerves, but what if rejection wasn’t so bad? What if it didn’t mean that you were less than or not good enough, but simply meant that it didn’t work out this time around?
Rejection is just something that happens from time to time, rather than something that diminishes your value.
6. Choose Which Thoughts you Honor
What do you hear in your head when the nerves hit? I can’t do this. This is horrible. I’m not good enough. What if I screw it up? I don’t want to be here.
Familiar, right? If there’s one thing your brain’s good at, it’s making thoughts. It does it all day long, whether you want them or not. A thought about what you had for dinner last night, a thought about the room you’re about to nervously enter, a thought about that funny thing your friend said, a thought about how you might feel if you get it wrong.
They’re all just thoughts, and the thought that trumps them all is the one that decides which ones you trust and honor. Which ones are you going to listen to?
7. Practice More for Next Time
It’s true that the more you do something, the better you get. Whether it’s cooking the perfect piece of fish, running or playing the banjo, you always start from scratch, give it a shot, practice some more and get better.
Your skills and capabilities continually evolve and the more you practice, the more accustomed you get and the more effective you become.
So, when starting out with something that makes you nervous, be ready for the initial awkwardness and those rookie nerves, then seek out opportunities to practice, learn and grow.
You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.
Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:
1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically
According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.
“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor
Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:
If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.
If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.
Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:
Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.
Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.
To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.
Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.
Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.
Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.
Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:
2. Focus on your goal
One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.
Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’
Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.
Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.
If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.
3. Convert negativity to positivity
There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?
‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’
It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.
Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”
Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.
Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:
4. Understand your content
Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.
However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.
“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor
Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.
Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.
One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.
5. Practice makes perfect
Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.
In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.
Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!
6. Be authentic
There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.
Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.
Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.
To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.
With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.
Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:
7. Post speech evaluation
Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.
Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation
We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.
You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.
Improve your next speech
As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:
How did I do?
Are there any areas for improvement?
Did I sound or look stressed?
Did I stumble on my words? Why?
Was I saying “um” too often?
How was the flow of the speech?
Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.
If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too: