I would rather die than give a speech! 4 tips for working with your fear of public speaking.

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I vomited just before giving my first speech. It didn’t make me feel any better. Sure, I was able to read the page in front of me, being careful not to glance up and see any of the staring faces. But, my voice was so shaky that afterwards a classmate asked why I had been crying during my speech. I was only 19 years old, but that experience alone should have made me crawl in a hole and never speak again. Luckily it didn’t.

You may think I’m being dramatic, but statistics actually show that people fear public speaking even more than they fear death. So, I’m not alone in my introverted agony. And, believe me, it doesn’t help to picture anyone in their underwear! What you may not believe is that I have spent the last 20 years getting paid to speak to groups of people.

Here’s what happened. I went to massage school, and later returned to the University to study molecular and cellular biology, and I found something to be passionate about. I was so fascinated with how the human organism functions and how massage techniques may actually affect those functional systems, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I wanted to share what I was learning with other people. So, when the opportunity to become a teacher presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

Then the dread set in… how was I actually going to convince students that I wasn’t terrified to be standing at the front of the classroom, when I really was terrified? I thought, maybe teaching just wasn’t for me.

But then I realized something amazing: my fear of not being able to share important stuff with future practitioners was far greater than my fear of public speaking. I’ve actually learned to use that fear differential to my advantage. And I’ve been teaching and training other teachers ever since.

If you are considering using public speaking in any way to build your practice, try these four things that really helped me manage my anxieties.

breathe

So, when you are scared or anxious about something, you tend to hold your breath. When you do breathe, it is short and shallow. This, of course, reduces the opportunity for oxygen to get to your brain where it is needed to help deal with the sympathetic autonomic response you are having. Take slow, deep, deliberate breaths. This helps you relax and reduces the effects of your sympathetic response.

get someone else to talk too

We are all better in dialogue than monologue. So, get someone else to talk with you. To begin, ask leading questions that start a conversation with one or more people in your audience. If it’s a small enough group, go around the room and have each person share something, like why they came today. When others are participating from the beginning, you will feel less alone and they will be more likely to participate throughout your presentation.

do something physical

Your sympathetic response is loading your system with adrenaline, so use it! Be physically animated in your presentation, and use humor if it’s natural for you to do so. If you are talking about massage or some other kind of physical treatment, demonstrate what you are talking about. It will use up some of the adrenaline that’s making you feel jittery.

focus on your topic

One of the reasons you are anxious in the first place is a fear of being judged. We are always subconsciously worried about what other people think of us. But, if you can focus on what you want to talk about, instead of focusing on what the audience thinks of you, your anxiety will dissipate quickly. You may be anxious for the first few minutes or so, but as you settle in to your topic, you will forget to worry about potential judgments. And that’s why it is so important to pick a topic you are passionate about, because it is much easier to get lost in your topic if you love and believe in it.

If I can go from vomiting to making a living at it, you can certainly muster up the courage to speak for a few moments. You may even find, as I have, that sharing the things you are passionate about can be a lot of fun!

If you dare, please share your public speaking experiences below…