One of the main confidence issues is that of public speaking. Many of us remember that feeling of having to talk in front of their class at school and those sniggering boys at the back! It’s amazing how many adults struggle with public speaking because of an unpleasant childhood experience. Although we know in the adult world the experience of public speaking will be different, we can still suffer from self doubt when we stand in front of an audience. Those who manage to avoid presenting often find it becomes a challenge again at another time in the future. Here are some of most common fears brought to me by my clients and some actions that can be taken to manage them.
‘I am frightened that people will notice I am shaking and I worry I will drop my prompt cards – It just makes the whole thing embarrassing’: Take some time out to let go of your anxiety beforehand with a mindfulness meditation app. Download a mindfulness app on your phone and listen to these to calm your nerves whenever you need to. Listening to a mindfulness audio can help you to slow down your breathing and this will help your heart rate drop. When this happens it is impossible to feel anxious or nervous, and shaking will not happen. Place your cards on a table in front of you if you can and ensure you number them so that you can put them in the right order easily.
‘I blush when I notice everyone looking at me’ Ensuring you are as relaxed as you can be before you begin will help you to avoid nervous responses like blushing. Focus on your presentation fully and your blush will immediately subside. And remember, it really is OK to remark that the room is quite warm, “Could we open that window at the back please”. This is often enough to switch focus and to explain a warm face.
‘I panic when I see all those faces look at me’ This is one of the most common complaints. Focus you eye on a spot at the back of the room to the left or the right and when you look down at the audience, fix your eyes on someone’s ear. This will help you to avoid eye contact until you relax into the presentation. It helps to ask the odd question when you feel ready as this also shifts the attention from yourself to another and can give you a chance to gather your thoughts.
‘What if they all notice I am nervous?’ Actually, most of the time people sit down to listen to a presentation and have half of their attention on the presenter and the rest of the time they are looking around the room at other people or thinking about their shopping lists. A study carried out at Harvard University (where they had a number of nervous presenters and a number of underconfident presenters presenting to an audience) revealed that when asked which presenters had confidence, the majority of the audience failed to select those who believed themselves to be lacking in confidence. This is where the phrase ‘fake it until you make it’ applies!
‘When I get nervous I talk too fast’. Practise makes perfect! Remember to take the time out to slow down your breathing before you present. Time your presentation beforehand and this will help you to pace yourself. You can mark a symbol intermittently throughout the prompt cards to remind you to slow down and deliver your presentation clearly.
Remember, we are all human, and most of us would have more than a few butterflies before they stood up to speak. Just keep going…… following your prompt cards…. remember to breath …..and ‘slow down’. As you develop your skills you will build your confidence. By accepting the challenge to speak out loud, you will in time become an accomplished speaker.